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Study: Psychiatric Care Difficult To Find In Boston



Anyone whose ever had to find a new doctor here in Massachusetts knows that the search can be frustratingly slow and difficult.

More than half of primary care physicians are no longer taking new patients, and if you are lucky enough to get an appointment, the average wait can be as long as seven weeks.

What happens, though, when the person looking for care is someone in the middle of mental health emergency? Well, a new study due out Thursday paints a troubling picture.

In the study, researchers from both the Cambridge Health Alliance and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center made calls to 64 mental health facilities within ten miles of downtown Boston. They posed as patients with Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance — some of the best in the state — and said they were diagnosed with depression at a local emergency room, and told to seek care within two weeks.

In 64 tries just four facilities could take a new patient within two weeks. In 15 cases, researchers left a phone message, but never heard back.

Access to mental health care is what we are talking about today.

Why is it so hard for someone to seek mental health care in Massachusetts, and what, if anything can be done about it?

Dr. Wesley Boyd, co-author of this new study joins us along with Laurie Martinelli of the National Alliance On Mental Illness of Massachusetts.


  • Wesley Boyd, psychiatrist, Cambridge Health Alliance; professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
  • Laurie Martinelli, executive director, National Alliance On Mental Illness of Massachusetts


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  • xx

    The situation is the same with primary care, dermatology (not cosmetic).  When I am in Europe (Czech), I can see my mom’s primare care dr. the same day (I may need to wait, but I don’t have to go to ER); oh the evils of “socialized” medicine!
    Does the Hippocratic Oath include that the doctors would choose self-pay patients (or higher paying insurances?

  • http://ciCoach.com Rosalind Joffe

    I’ve been trying to help my daughter’s friend (27) who lives in Boston find a therapist for 3 months.  I’m very well connected to therapists and physicians but I can’t find anyone who will see him.  He has good insurance (w/BCBSMA who is actually his employer) and we’ve run into just the issues mentioned in your program: either the practice is full or the therapist doesn’t accept insurance.
    He’s not a young man in danger but he believes he’d be a lot better off in good treatment.
    Should insurers reimburse mental health providers more equitably for their services?  Of course.  Should they make the paperwork much easier for all concerned?  Of course.  
    Studies show that ‘good mental health’ promotes good health.   Isn’t that the best cost cutting measures we can achieve?   It’s highly unlikely to happen in the current marketplace. 

  • Anonymous

    This special program was launched in 2010 and was originally expected to run out of money before it could cover everyone who needed it. But the opposite happened. People with pre-existing conditions either didn’t know about this plan or didn’t care to take part. Less than 20,000 people have signed up across the country. learn at “Penny Health” for your self

  • Lynda

    Thank you for shedding light on this difficult problem.  We can hope that the day will come soon when mental illness is treated as the medical condition that it is.  Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease.  The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders.  And yet, there is less research into it’s causes than many other illnesses receive, and persons with these illnesses face enormous obstacles in receiving treatment.

  • I am “Mad” and Proud of it

    Why weren’t any people who actually face this issue interviewed, real people with mental health diagnoses? I always feel that reports by “experts” are less real and have less impact than when we speak for ourselves… 
    NAMI-MASS does not “speak for” us either, they represent families’ perspectives or their own goals, which are often good, but not ours. Next time you want information about ER issues or trying to get care, please contact M-POWER Inc., The Transformation Center, MindFreedom or another group *run* by people with these diagnoses to include “our” voices. You can look up such groups on the DMH website or by looking in the phone book or internet – try Google. We are also fortunate to have Dan Fisher locally, of the National Empowerment Center, who is a psychiatrist and in recovery.The issues we face in ERs are horrific. A program on that issue would be excellent. People have been boarded up to 30 days – at UMass Medical. And one person was 18 days at Sturdy Hospital’s ER’s.  I personally tried to work with other advocates on this issue but we are stigmatized by the very health care system that is supposed to help us… and the hospital organizations are too powerful to overcome in the current legislative environment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003190178964 Danielle Fedorov

    http://www.bostonpsychiatriccare.com  taking new patients now. Appointments available this coming week.

    MBHP, BCBS, harvard pilgrim, United behavioral health, Commonwealth Care accepted (soon to accept beacon health strategies including neighborhood health).

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