Sunday, July 06, 2008

The state of mental health care in the US

As regular readers might have noticed, I'm not too impressed with health care in the US (being it mental or physical). Americans get very little for their astronomical costs. This was demonstrated when a woman died in the psychiatric emergency room at Kings County Hospital Center, without anyone noticing before it was too late.

Turns out that the reason they didn't notice, was because there was nothing unusual going on.

Some psych patients wait days in hospital ERs

When staffers at a Brooklyn hospital spotted a middle-aged woman lying face-down on a waiting room floor last month, it hardly seemed like cause for alarm.

The sight, after all, was common in the psychiatric emergency room at Kings County Hospital Center. The unit is so routinely backed up with people waiting hours, or even days, for services that patients often spend the night nodding in chairs or sprawled in a corner.

It took an hour before a nurse realized the prone woman was in trouble. By then, she was dead.

Because of lack of facilities, patients are often put into the emergency room to wait until some facilities can be found for them.

A survey of hundreds of U.S. hospitals released last month by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that 79 percent reported that they routinely "boarded" psychiatric patients in their waiting rooms for at least some period of time because of the unavailability of immediate services.

One-third reported that those stays averaged at least eight hours, and 6 percent said they had average waits of more than 24 hours for the next step in a patient's care.

This points to a very serious problem. Waiting for 24 hours in an emergency room, is not a good way of treating people who needs psychological help.

After the incident, steps are being taken to get more facilities. But that's local measures, not national, so I guess it's only a question of time before it happens again in a different location.

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