Sending Disruptive Students to the E.R. Worries Docs, Advocates

Beth Fertig:

By the city’s own count, about one fourth of all 911 calls made from New York City public schools are for “emotionally disturbed persons,” as first responders call it. In one year, 2011-12, schools made more than 3,800 calls that, in turn, led to an ambulance trip to a hospital emergency room, a mismatched solution in the eyes of many mental health experts and children’s advocates.
Dr. Michael Falk, a pediatrician in the pediatric emergency room of St. Luke’s hospital in Harlem, said there were about 136 psychiatric behavioral evaluations between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. last year for children under the age of 18 coming from public schools. He said some were sent to his emergency room because they were suicidal or assaulted a teacher. But he says many more cases aren’t nearly so dramatic.
“It’s usually involving they get into an altercation with one of the other students and then the staff tries to restrain them, and then the staff person gets hit or threatened,” he said, adding that “a fair number” are anywhere between the ages of six and 10. He said the E.R. also sees a “significant number” of kids with learning disabilities or A.D.H.D.
Very few children were admitted, he said. Instead, most were evaluated and sent home – which mental health experts say is typical. But they believe it still takes a lot of time on the part of doctors and nurses, plus the use of an ambulance that should be reserved for true emergencies.