Minn. ERs struggle to manage surge of psychiatric patients

Emergency rooms across Minnesota are reporting increasing numbers of visits by psychiatric patients, leading to overcrowding and the need to divert patients to other hospitals, according to the Star Tribune.

The surge of mental health patients is causing a particularly difficult strain on smaller, rural hospitals, in which patients may be forced to wait on stretchers in public hallways, sometimes for hours. In some cases, overcrowding forces the hospitals to send patients to other hospitals hundreds of miles away, according to the report.

Two of the state's largest health systems, Minneapolis-based Allina Health and Duluth-based Essentia Health, have said they are increasingly diverting ambulances because of the high volume of psychiatric patients occupying their emergency ward beds, according to the report.

Although most people with mental health conditions are not violent, the anxiety caused by long waits and prolonged stays in emergency wards is causing more patients to become agitated and sometimes lash out at medical staff.

To better handle such situations, some hospitals are making changes to the physical environment of their ERs. St. Mary's Hospital is Detroit Lakes, Minn., is preparing to build its second "safe room," which consists only of a stretcher bolted to the floor to hold ER patients in danger of hurting themselves, according to the report.

More articles on patient flow:
Scheduling war between doctors and Arizona VA shows risk of hospital operations catastrophe
Washington, DC turns to private ambulances to alleviate high demand
Milwaukee hospitals implement new policy on ambulance diversions

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