State sees shortage of beds as more children sent for psychiatric care

Hartford - Since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook tragedy in which Adam Lanza killed 26 people, more parents and teachers in Connecticut are sending their children to hospitals for psychiatric care, mental health professionals said Friday during a meeting of the governor's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission.

The problem is there are often not enough hospital beds for the children, they said.

"The situation basically is that there are a fair number of days during any month where more than half of the CCMC ED (Connecticut Children's Medical Center's Emergency Department) is occupied by behavioral health patients, some of whom can be there for days on end because there may be no psychiatric bed available in the state of Connecticut," said Harold I. Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief for Hartford Hospital's Institute of Living and member of the advisory commission.

Last Saturday there were nine youngsters, ages 13 to 17, held overnight for psychiatric care, said Lisa Namerow, attending child psychiatrist at The Institute of Living and director of consultation services at the Children's Medical Center. Of those nine, three were admitted to inpatient psychiatric hospitals, one was admitted to pediatrics, one was discharged and four were kept in the emergency department while they waited for psychiatric beds to become available.

Another four adolescents arrived in the evening on Saturday, she said. One was able to go to the medical center's crisis unit while the others were kept in the emergency department, she said. On Sunday, another five children had to be evaluated for psychiatric care, she said.

Stephen W. Larcen, president and CEO of Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield and vice president of behavioral health for Hartford HealthCare, said mental health services have actually improved since 2005, when new regulations were put in place. There are many more beds at group homes, and providers are given financial incentives to not delay moving a child or adolescent out of the emergency department and into inpatient or outpatient care, he said.

But as of late, the situation has started to deteriorate again, Larcen said, noting that in 2005 there were 175 child and adolescent psychiatric beds and in 2012 there were only 147.

Among other things, the Medicaid reimbursement rate for mental health services needs to be raised, Larcen said.

Other factors that have contributed to the increase in the need for psychiatric among children and adolescents include bringing young people who were sent out-of-state for care back to Connecticut, Namerow said.

j.somers@theday.com

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