Study: Children seeking mental health care likely to stay in ER longer than a decade earlier


Children seeking mental health care are likely to stay in emergency rooms longer than they would have a decade earlier, according to a recent study of 2005 to 2015 data.  

An analysis of the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey determined that almost a quarter of mental health stays in the emergency department among those aged 6 to 17 lasted longer than six hours in 2015. 

The study, which was published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, found in 2005 that 16.3 percent of mental health stays for the age group extended beyond six hours. 

Almost 13 percent of mental health visits for the children lasted longer than 12 hours in 2015, compared to 5.3 percent in 2005. 

In the meantime, the length of time for non-mental health stays remained stable over the 10 years.

Hispanic children in particular were three times more likely than white children to have to stay longer than 12 hours in the emergency room. 

Researchers said the higher rate for Hispanic children could be attributed to inequitable access to mental health treatment, noting that racism, language barriers and immigration status may contribute to the length of stay. 

“Mental health care for children is expensive and suboptimal reimbursement limits incentives to expand services,” the researchers wrote. “There continues to be a dearth of child psychiatrists and community supports. EDs struggle to safely discharge children who present in crisis to appropriate care settings in light of limited services and poor coverage, which in turn leads to prolonged ED LOS [length of stay].”

The study’s authors called on state and federal leaders to institute policy to revamp mental health treatment and expand the number of available pediatric mental health specialists, including in emergency rooms. 

The focus on children’s mental health has grown over the past year as schools have shut down and activities have been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Earlier this year, the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called on President Biden’s administration to prioritize addressing children’s mental health in the pandemic. 

Biden said he aims to fully reopen a majority of K-8 schools by his 100th day in office, and on March 25, he said nearly half were open.

Tags children's mental health Emergency department emergency room ER Hispanic children Joe Biden Mental health Pediatrics
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