State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Doctors propose database to deal with psych bed shortage

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 11, 2013 10:32 PM

Pennsylvania doctors are warning that a high demand for mental health services are putting pressure on hospital emergency rooms and working with commonwealth agencies to treat the problem with a statewide tracking system for available psychiatric beds.

There aren't enough beds for all the people who need to be checked into a facility for mental illness treatment.

The Pennsylvania Medical Association attributes the shortage to a combination of factors: the shuttering of state mental hospitals and declining funds for community-based mental health programs.

"What that has done to the emergency medical system and the psychiatric system is that there aren't currently the number of in-patient beds that are needed to care for patients with mental health illnesses," said Dr. Charles Barbera, chairman of emergency services at Reading Health System.

Psychiatric patients show up in emergency rooms and hospitals often don't have space to accommodate them. A statewide database update din real time with in-patient bed vacancies wouldn't make the high demand for mental services go away. But without any such tracking system, the search for beds is a crapshoot.

"The physicians or the support people will call around," said Barbera. "Patients will wait hours to days in hospital emergency departments for the next available bed, and that bed may not be anywhere near where they're located."

Several medical associations are working with state agencies to create the database. Barbera says it could take several years to be up and running.

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