In a recent report, a CDC-led research team found that less than half of U.S. hospital emergency departments had a clear policy for treating children with behavioral problems. Psychiatrists say that getting to the root of any complex behavioral problem can take at least days to see a patient. And many emergency departments do not have the manpower, special area, or outside resources to do the job well.
It is difficult for Jean Ani to diagnose her son. After that, he developed irritable bowel syndrome. “He was losing weight and out of boredom he started smoking a boiler,” said Jean An. “All this is due to anxiety.”
Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio has an emergency department that is the right size for a pediatric hospital with a capacity of 62 children or adolescents. But before the coronavirus came, the department was sparing no effort to increase the number of patients with behavioral problems.
“This was a huge pre-epidemic problem,” said Dr. David Axelson, the hospital’s director of psychiatry and behavioral health. “We have seen an increase in visits to ambulances for children with mental health problems, particularly suicidal ideation and self-harm. “Our emergency department was overwhelmed by this, having to sit in the medical ward with the children while they waited in the psychiatric beds.”
Last March, to counter the crowd, Nationwide Children opened a new pavilion, a nine-story facility with 54 beds, for people with intellectual disabilities to stay longer. Dr. Axelson says it has put pressure on the hospital’s usual emergency department to significantly improve care.
During this epidemic year, with the number of people receiving mental health problems increasing by about 15 percent in previous years, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like without an additional dedicated behavioral clinic, said Dr. Axelson.
Other hospitals outside the country often call, hoping to put the patient in crisis, but there is simply no place. “We must say no,” said Dr. Axelson.