State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Doctors propose database to deal with psych bed shortage

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 11, 2013 10:32 PM
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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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Comments: 1

  • Jason Schmidt img 2013-11-12 13:59

    The problem with this approach is that it continues the wasteful and unnecessary idea that there are only two possibilities for psychiatric emergencies: hospitalization or discharge to home. From the literature, the great majority of psychiatric emergencies can be stabilized in less than 24 hours, so hospitalization is not needed. By focusing on treating the emergency rather than wasting hours searching for an inpatient hospital bed, many of these hospitalizations can be avoided and those inpatient beds will be preserved for those who truly need them.

    There is a fascinating new study in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine that shows a novel way to end boarding of psychiatric patients in emergency rooms, and reduce the demand on psychiatric hospital beds -- all while costing far less than the current system! This model also provides access to quality, timely, appropriate care, and by reducing costs and hospitalizations, makes it a great fit for ObamaCare.

    Here's the link to the study: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/01s9h6wp

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