Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association

MHA Releases Weekly Behavioral Health Boarding Report

Quotation marks with an EKG symbol

Report shows that over 600 individuals are regularly boarding in hospitals as they await the specialized behavioral healthcare they need

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA) today released its first weekly report of behavioral health boarding metrics in Massachusetts hospitals. This data will help address the severe behavioral health crisis in Massachusetts, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Psychiatric boarding occurs when a patient must wait in an emergency department (ED) or medical-surgical floor until a psychiatric inpatient bed is available. These new reports will examine both weekly and trending data on the number of behavioral health patients in acute care hospitals across the state who are waiting for a psychiatric evaluation or who have had an evaluation and are awaiting an inpatient behavioral health bed. The information will be further broken down by patient age and geographic region. 

Boarding—which has been a longstanding issue for Massachusetts patients and hospitals—has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving EDs and medical-surgical units that were not designed to treat behavioral health patients to serve as the last available refuge as patients await appropriate placement. Hospitals continue to see over 600 behavioral health boarders in their facilities every week, providing around-the-clock care that stretches an already strained system.

“This is a top issue for our hospitals and health systems. Understanding and analyzing the data around boarding is an important step in addressing the behavioral health crisis here in Massachusetts,” said Leigh Simons Youmans, MHA’s Senior Director of Healthcare Policy. “These weekly reports will provide further clarity on the severity of the crisis, serving as a critical resource as our healthcare system continues its partnership with the Baker administration and the legislature to increase access to services for patients across the commonwealth. We are grateful for the important measures already taken by state leaders on this pressing issue.”

Boarding is one of many challenges contributing to the national behavioral health crisis. The pandemic has caused behavioral health need to escalate, just as the healthcare system faces a severe workforce shortage. 

Addressing this complex issue will require a coordinated effort to increase physical capacity to care for behavioral health patients, bolster and expand the entire behavioral healthcare workforce, and ensure the financial stability of behavioral health units and facilities. Other identifiable solutions to the crisis include the creation of a Behavioral Health Trust Fund, the creation of a Behavioral Health Rate Task Force, and reducing administrative and technical barriers to accessing behavioral health services.