Investigations highlight struggles of psychiatric hospitals

Hospital entance
Demand for psychiatric beds is high, posing a unique challenge for providers that struggle to have space for patients who need behavioral health treatment. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

A series of investigations at psychiatric hospitals in three states puts a spotlight on some of the issues these organizations face.  

Federal investigators have cited Arbor Health System for dirty conditions and lack of needed staff, according to a report from The Boston Globe. The system manages eight mental health facilities in Massachusetts. Since 2010, its hospitals have been cited at least 23 times for having too few staff members to care for patients and at least 31 times for failing to properly monitor patients, the newspaper reports.

Karen Gromis, interim executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the newspaper that these issues are troubling even though the citations are spread across a large system of psychiatric hospitals.

“They need to put some quality control into effect that they clearly don’t have,” Gromis said.

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Demand for psychiatric beds is high, posing a unique challenge for providers that struggle to have space for patients who need behavioral health treatment. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals to treat these patients are also significantly lacking systemwide.

Furthermore, the vast majority (80%) of emergency room physicians say resources for treating mental health patients are lacking.

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Staffing issues also plague the state mental hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, according to an article from The Denver Post. The shortage is so critical that federal investigators have concluded the 449-bed Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo poses “a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety” of its patients.

Out of a staff of 723 people, 97 positions are vacant, according to the article. The facility has operated for years without the staff needed to cover shifts and group therapy, in some cases resulting in cancelled sessions because no one was able to lead them.

“We haven’t noticed any harm to patients,” Nancy VanDeMark, state director of behavioral health, told the publication.

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Other facilities have also come under fire for conduct against patients. Federal and state officials are taking steps toward cutting off funding for Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reports Tulsa World, following a highly critical inspection that found instances of staff members roughly grabbing patients and deploying “nebulous action plans” that included use of restraints or seclusion.

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Patients may be able to get a look at inspection reports like these soon, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is seeking to make reports on medical mistakes and other adverse events public.