The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Desperate psychiatric patients wait–Some wait days in ERs, get no help

This is an article that quite eloquently addresses the dwindling psychiatric spaces and the long times these seriously ill paitients can spend in an ER bed.  Once a patient is deemed in “imminent danger to themself or others” and admitted to an ER for treatment, they cannot simply be released back out into the community when a bed is unavailable in a psychiatric facility.  This situation contributes to the long wait times we find in most ER’s across the nation.  However, psychiatric budgets are being cut in every state, county, city government.  What is the solution?  I don’t have any answers, but I do have more and more questions.

Here’s an article by Alan Judd of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about just this topic.  Please go to the site and read the entire article.  Feel free to leave him a comment there or leave me a comment here about your thoughts on this subject.  Do you have any solutions?


Richard P. was distraught. After arguing with his former wife, he checked into a motel, looped a belt around his neck and tried his best to take his own life.

The belt broke.

So Richard entered the labyrinth of Georgia’s mental health system. On June 5, hours after Richard’s suicide attempt, an emergency room doctor committed him to a state psychiatric hospital. He was, as a counselor said, “a suicidal, wanting-to-die patient.”

But no beds were available in the state hospital that day. Or the next day. Or the day after that. It wasn’t until June 8 — 82 hours after Richard’s commitment — that a crisis unit in Cobb County accepted him.

Richard’s experience, detailed in a document prepared for state officials, demonstrates how patients have been harmed since Georgia began paring back its state mental hospitals in favor of community-based services that often do not yet exist, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

Hundreds of psychiatric patients have spent hours, days — as long as a week — in emergency rooms awaiting admission to state hospitals or other mental health facilities, according to health care executives, physicians and others familiar with the situation. Few patients receive psychiatric care in the emergency rooms. Some get no more than a chair to sit through the delay.

Just since April, more than 230 patients committed to Georgia psychiatric facilities — nearly one of every five — have been forced to wait 24 hours or more before being admitted. At least two waited in emergency rooms for seven days, state records reviewed by the AJC show, and three others spent more than six days in limbo. Many are psychotic or suicidal, a threat to themselves or others — a volatile group of people not getting the psychiatric care they need.

“They’re very high risk” and require “a very high level of attention,” said Dr. Robert Cox, president of the Georgia College of Emergency Physicians. “We stabilize them in the emergency department rather than the psychiatric hospital stabilizing them. That’s not optimal. … It’s not our specialty.”

It is, nevertheless, expensive. Georgia hospitals say they spent $68.8 million last year treating uninsured psychiatric patients in emergency rooms […read more…]

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June 25, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , ,

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