Amid shortage, number of psychiatric beds in US down 13% from 2010

A critical nationwide shortage of psychiatric beds is forcing many mentally ill patients with severe symptoms to be "boarded" in hospital emergency rooms and jails as they wait for an available bed, sometimes for weeks, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mental health advocates and attorneys say boarding prevents patients from getting necessary care. Instead, they are sometimes strapped down, kept in isolation and receive little or no mental health services.

According to one count, the U.S. needs an additional 123,300 psychiatric hospital beds to alleviate the shortage. The U.S. currently has 37,679 state psychiatric beds, down 13 percent from 2010, the Treatment Advocacy Center found. Several states are taking steps to increase the number of beds and crisis services.

The crisis has garnered significant attention in Washington, where one state Supreme Court ruling in 2014 and a 2015 federal court ruling determined it is illegal to keep mentally ill patients and prisoners in ERs, prisons and regular hospitals, according to the report. The state increased the number of psychiatric beds and bolstered spending on community mental health services, but the courts are dissatisfied with the pace of state action.

Last month, the federal judge who ruled that the Washington Department of Social and Health Services was violating prisoners' constitutional rights held the department in contempt and ordered it to pay fines of $500 per day for each inmate waiting more than one week for a bed and $1,000 per day for each inmate waiting more than two weeks for a bed, until the issue is resolved.

Other states have faced similar situations. A 2014 survey found 19 of 38 state mental health directors said their states were threatened with or found in contempt for failing to admit mentally incompetent prison inmates to mental health facilities in a timely manner, according to the report. 

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