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Healey to provide settlement money to ease ER boarding crisis

Attorney General Maura Healey: "It it is vital that patients and families can access the appropriate care they need.''Steven Senne/Associated Press

Attorney General Maura Healey will use proceeds from recent legal settlements to help patients in urgent need of mental health care avoid having to visit hospital emergency rooms.

The $2.9 million grant program will hand out awards of up to $250,000 over a two-year period to non-profits to create, expand or sustain the mental health services they provide. The goal is to ease the crisis of mental health patients boarding, sometimes for days, in hospital emergency rooms as they wait for a psychiatric inpatient bed to become available.

“As we see an increased demand for mental health services, it is vital that patients and families can access the appropriate care they need,” Healey said in a statement. “This grant program will help connect patients in crisis with more immediate mental health support while alleviating the strain on overwhelmed hospitals.”

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Emergency department boarding by patients needing a psychiatric bed has been a worsening problem through the pandemic. As of Oct. 11, 593 patients were sitting in Massachusetts hospitals as they waited for a mental health bed, including 100 pediatric patients, according to data from the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association.

While boarding occurred prior to the pandemic, rising mental health issues coupled with staffing shortages have exacerbated the issue.

The program will be partly funded by nearly $1 million that Healey’s office received from a 2020 settlement with five health insurers and two companies that manage behavioral health coverage. Healey, the Democratic nominee for governor, reached the settlements in February 2020, after her office alleged that the groups paid behavioral health providers less than physical health providers, violating mental health and addiction parity laws.

The remaining funding will come from a 2017 settlement with Medtronic over alleged deceptive marketing strategies, as well as a small 2021 settlement with South Shore Anesthesia Associates over allegations of surprise billing, or billing certain patients without disclosing they would be out of network.

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In a request for proposals, the office said grant recipients can fund new programs or expand the capacity of current programs or services, or sustain capacity where funding has fallen short. Applications are open until Nov. 16.

Healey’s office is targeting a number of recipients for the funding, including community or home-based crisis or urgent mental health services, nonclinical mental health crisis alternatives, such as respite services; and home-based intensive support and care coordination following a patient’s discharge from a hospital’s emergency department.


Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.bartlett@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByJessBartlett.