Hospitals move to cut inpatient psych beds

Although more hospitals are cutting inpatient psychiatric beds because they are unprofitable, some Florida hospitals are bucking the trend and expanding their mental health services.

Hugh Greene, CEO of the Jacksonville-based Baptist Health, said most hospitals across the country are using the beds for more profitable care because mental health services are "never adequately reimbursed," the Florida Times-Union reports.

And Florida's refusal to expand Medicaid may exacerbate the problem, Greene said at a community inquiry into mental healthcare organized by Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. 

Despite the national trend, the article states, Baptist Health and other Sunshine State hospitals haven't reduced psychiatric beds either. UF Health Jacksonville spokesman Dan Leveton said the organization has maintained 43 psych beds for the past several years, and Orange Park Medical Center spokesman David Goldberg said the hospital plans to open a 26-bed geriatric mental health unit this year to address unmet need in the community

But in general there are far fewer available beds and accessible mental health services today compared to past decades. The ratio of psych beds per 100,000 citizens was 340 in 1955 and 17 in 2008, a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center found, according to MedPageToday.

The fact that emergency rooms must treat all patients regardless of ability to pay only exacerbates the problem, MedPage Today reports.  If an ER physician determines a patient needs a psych bed and the facility has none available, he or she can attempt to transfer the patient to a hospital with bed space as long as the other facility consents to the transfer. As a result, hospitals often "board" patients until they find a bed for them, clear the patients for discharge or the patients leave voluntarily, adding to the uncompensated care burden.

To help combat the problem, last November, Pennsylvania physicians proposed a computerized system to notify emergency departments of open psych beds in real time, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Times-Union article
- here's the MedPageToday article