Grantee investigation shows North Carolina mental health system “buckling” in COVID pandemic

Hospital officials across North Carolina say they've seen increased rates of mental health patients, particularly children, showing up at emergency departments in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo credit: Taylor Knopf

Freelance health care reporter Taylor Knopf dug into North Carolina’s already-strapped mental health system and obtained new data showing that the system has buckled since the COVID-19 pandemic. People in the state are increasingly relying on emergency rooms and even involuntary commitments to obtain mental health services. Knopf’s series of reports, co-published with NC Health News and WRAL-TV in Raleigh, relied on six months of shoe-leather reporting to pull together data and tell the stories of individuals in the mental health system. Involuntary commitment data is kept at the county level, and North Carolina has 100 counties. While Knopf was able to request some state data, many counties had fallen behind in their reporting during the pandemic, and she gathered them individually to provide the first statewide picture of a system in crisis.