Facing the COVID Crisis
July 16, 2021
In early spring 2020, McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, predicted that across the country, the COVID-19 medical surge would be closely followed by a second life-threatening surge—one focused on the need for urgent psychiatric care.
By mid-May, the demand for psychiatric beds across Massachusetts was overwhelming, causing McLean’s leadership to take action in concert with leadership across the Mass General Brigham (MGB) system.
“After thoughtful consideration, we chose to launch a 20-bed adult inpatient program on our Belmont campus and an additional four beds at our Middleborough site,” said Rauch, who also serves as chair of System Behavioral and Mental Health (SBMH) for MGB.
“We felt it was our obligation to the people we serve to do everything we could to increase capacity and enhance access as we sought to address the needs of our communities in Eastern Massachusetts and beyond.”
– Dr. Scott L. Rauch
The new inpatient program, known as the North Belknap Inpatient Program (NB1), is the first major inpatient bed expansion for McLean since 2016 and the first new inpatient program since 1987. NB1 opened its doors in October 2020, while the additional beds at McLean SouthEast (MSE) in Middleborough began accepting patients in January 2021.
“We are thrilled to offer expanded services for adults who need inpatient care for a variety of psychiatric disorders,” said Linda M. Flaherty, RN, PMHCNS-BC, senior vice president, Patient Care Services at McLean. “Both NB1 and MSE serve an array of patients and families and will be tremendously beneficial in reducing the stress that we are currently seeing in emergency rooms across MGB and the state.”
Mental Health in a Pandemic
Although McLean’s admissions dropped significantly during the initial COVID-19 medical surge, Rauch and the hospital leadership team viewed that as the quiet before the storm.
“The reduction in patients seeking psychiatric care during the height of COVID correlates to people’s fear of going to emergency rooms (ERs)—the primary referral source for our inpatient programs,” explained Susan M. Szulewski, MD, associate chief medical officer for McLean.
“People were afraid to go anywhere they would encounter other people and potentially expose themselves to COVID. Hospitals were the perceived place to avoid, so unless it was a dire emergency, people stayed home and got sicker and sicker. We knew that once the medical surge subsided and people began to feel physically safer, we were going to experience a mental health surge.”
Both Rauch’s and Szulewski’s predictions were accurate. Immediately following the medical surge, patients needing urgent psychiatric care began arriving in emergency rooms across the state in unprecedented numbers. Despite the increased number of beds on NB1 and MSE, McLean continues to operate at capacity, while demand for psychiatric services continues to exceed supply, according to Szulewski.