ERs bear brunt of behavioral health service cutbacks

Emergency departments take a huge hit when local governments reduce mental health treatment services, a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found.

The study looked at the impact on an academic medical center when a county cut the number of beds in its inpatient psychiatric unit by half and closed its outpatient unit. The results were striking: The number of daily psychiatry consults in the ED swelled from 1.3 to 4.4, while the length of stay for psychiatry consult patients in the ED increased from 14.1 hours to 21.9 hours.

The increased number of visits and length of stay have "important implications for future policy to address the challenges of caring for patients with psychiatric needs in our communities," researchers concluded.

The demands of patients with behavioral health issues continue to stress emergency rooms and hospitals across the country. More than 8 in 10 emergency physicians say community resources for mental healthcare are inadequate, a survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians released this fall found.

In Massachusetts, the state Health Policy Commission found that while ED use fell slightly in 2014, the number of behavioral-health ED visits rose nearly 24 percent from 2010 to 2014, State House News Service reported. That was an average increase. Psychiatric ED visits jumped 53 percent in Fall River and 48 percent in New Bedford. Behavioral health visits comprised 7 percent of all Massachusetts ED visits in 2014, the commission noted.

In eastern North Carolina, Chowan County created a mobile crisis team to intervene with people suffering mental health crises before they end up in the emergency department, the Elizabeth City Daily Advance reported. Individuals or their families in the Albemarle Sound area can request help directly, or they can be called in by law enforcement, according to the article.

Some healthcare systems are turning to telehealth services to let patients confer with their psychiatrists remotely, making mental healthcare more accessible, mHealth Intelligence reported. So-called "telemental health" visits also help optimize limited behavioral health resources and deliver services to areas where few psychiatrists practice, FiercePracticeManagement reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the Massachusetts article
- check out the N.C. article
- see the mHealth Intelligence article