On a rainy Thursday evening last spring, a 15-year-old girl was rushed by her parents to the emergency department at Boston Children’s Hospital. She had marks on both wrists from self-harm and a recent suicide attempt, and earlier that day she confided to her pediatrician that she planned to try again.
At the E.R., a doctor examined her and explained to her parents that she was not safe to go home.
“But I need to be honest with you about what’s likely to unfold,” the doctor added. The best place for adolescents in distress was not a hospital but an inpatient treatment center, where individual and group therapy would be provided in a calmer, communal setting, to stabilize the teens and ease them back to real life. But there were no openings in any of the treatment centers in the region, the doctor said.
Indeed, 15 other adolescents — all in precarious mental condition — were already housed in the hospital’s emergency department, sleeping in exam rooms night after night, waiting for an opening. The average wait for a spot in a treatment program was 10 days.