Half of ER physicians say mental healthcare in community worse than last year

About half of emergency room physicians across the U.S. said mental healthcare in their communities was worse this year than last, with most blaming inadequate inpatient and outpatient resources for patients with serious mental illnesses.

That figure comes from a survey of more than 1,700 ER physicians and research presented at the American College of Emergency Physician's annual meeting last week in Las Vegas.

Three quarters of ER physicians responding to the survey reported seeing patients at least once a shift who require hospitalization for psychiatric treatment, while 21 percent said they have patients waiting two to five days for in-patient beds.

"More than half (52 percent) of emergency physicians say the mental health system in their communities has gotten worse in just the last year, and the consequences of that play out in our emergency departments," said Rebecca Parker, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "Psychiatric patients wait in the emergency department for hours and even days for a bed, which delays the psychiatric care they so desperately need. It also leads to delays in care and diminished resources for other emergency patients. The emergency department has become the dumping ground for these vulnerable patients who have been abandoned by every other part of the healthcare system."

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 48 percent of respondents reported they see at least one psychiatric patient being held (or boarded) in the emergency department while they wait for an in-patient bed.
  • More than half (57 percent) reported increased wait times and boarding for children with psychiatric illnesses.
  • Only 16.9 percent reported having a psychiatrist on call to respond to psychiatric emergencies in the emergency department.
  • More than 11 percent reported having no one on call to respond to psychiatric emergencies.
  • More than 10 percent reported having 6 to 10 patients waiting for inpatient psychiatric beds on their last shift.

The physicians called for comprehensive mental health reform to remedy the ailing system.

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