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Too Many Psych Patients, Not Enough Beds

Emergency Departments across Pennsylvania are seeing increasing numbers of psychiatric patients and many want to establish a real-time statewide bed-tracking system to find available psychiatric beds.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, along with the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society is asking to work with the Department of Health and Hospital Association of Pennsylvania to establish the database.

Michael Turturro, Chief of Emergency Services at UPMC Mercy in Uptown says there is a great need for this.

”Over a three year period, while our emergency department volume increased by over 22 percent, the percentage of patients who presented requesting either psychiatric care or detoxification service went up 325 percent in that same time period,” he said.

He said the need has grown for a number of reasons.  Among them is the closure of facilities such as Mayview State Hospital. He said support in the community isn’t there and patients with severe psychiatric disease have difficulties navigating the health care system. He says they come to the emergency departments “largely because they have no place else to go.”

He says a new phenomenon over the past three to four years is that “patients who require inpatient treatment for the psychiatric disease will sometimes sit in emergency departments for hours or even days on end until an available bed is indentified.”

A real-time database would cut down on those waiting times according to advocates.

The Hospital Association of Pennsylvania and The Department of Health do not track how many beds in Emergency Departments are being used for psychiatric care. Individual sites and facilities sometimes do track the numbers but there is no mechanism through which that information is shared among sites.

Nationally, emergency department directors are reporting that they are holding a number of patients in their emergency departments who require an inpatient bed for psychiatric care – but can’t get them to a bed.

Pennsylvania’s plan is modeled after a similar state-wide database in Maryland of psychiatric and detoxification beds.