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Psychiatric Patients Article

December 28, 2011

A big thank-you to Julie Steenhuysen from Thompson Reuters for including me in a well-written article exposing the difficulties that hospitals are having in trying to help patients with mental health problems.

As states cut services to patients, not only do the patients have more difficulty finding care, but other patients suffer the downstream effect of the cuts. As a few examples ….

  • When patients in psychiatric crisis wait in the emergency department for a psychiatric bed to open up, the emergency department beds in which those patient wait are not available for other patients, sometimes causing a delay in providing necessary care to other patients. Waits of several days for a psychiatric bed to open up are currently not uncommon. Closing hundreds of psychiatric beds across the state will extend those delays and tie up emergency department beds even further. Those delays will cost the state more money, not less money.
  • When patients suffering from a psychiatric crisis require transport to the emergency department or between the emergency department and another facility, ambulances performing the transport are not available to respond to other emergencies. While this issue may not cause as much as a problem in urban settings, rural communities may have little or no available emergency medical back up during the transports. Travel to facilities several hours away will take ambulances out of the system for most of the day – at a significant cost to the state. Again, costs will increase, not decrease.
  • During testimony at a November hearing regarding the closing of Tinley Park Mental Health Center, a representative from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department testified that psychiatric patients often end up arrested and that many times their families will not bail them out of jail because there are no inpatient psychiatric beds available and the families are afraid that the patients will hurt themselves or others. Jails are one of the few safe places for the patients, but then the patients end up sitting in jail and not getting the help that they need. Add more costs to the state’s legal system.
  • Finally, during the same November hearing, a representative from the Cook County States Attorney testified that their offices deal with roughly 4000 criminal cases involving mental health issues each year. They expect that number to increase significantly if other mental health facilities are closed. Again, add more costs to the system.

If Governor Quinn and the state legislature decide to cut funding to state mental health facilities next year, the downstream effects of such cuts would not only cost the state more money, but those funding cuts would effectively amount to re-instituting the death penalty in Illinois … only this time for patients in need of emergency medical care.


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