Reuters (12/25, Steenhuysen, Mincer) reported that across the US, emergency department (ED) physicians are encountering more patients in severe mental crisis. Severe budget cuts to state psychiatric hospitals and local mental-health programs, coupled with high unemployment and loss of health insurance, are forcing more people with psychosis or severe depression to seek emergency treatment.
In North Carolina, Bret Nicks, MD, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, pointed out that state psychiatric hospital inpatient capacity has been cut by 50% since 2005. Meanwhile, Stephen Anderson, MD, FACEP, head of the Washington State chapter of ACEP, noted that Washington has 33% fewer inpatient psychiatric beds than in 2001.
Emergency department physicians as well as psychiatrists are troubled by the trend, because patients in psychiatric crisis cannot receive the ongoing and specialized care they need in an emergency setting.