Patients continue to spend days in EDs waiting for psych placement

An investigative report reveals serious problems in how Georgia continues to handle psychiatric admissions.

Psychiatric patients in Georgia can spend in days emergency departments awaiting admission to a state mental health facility, according to an investigative piece by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution--and many of these patients are psychotic or suicidal. 

Patients have been suffering since Georgia began paring state mental hospitals in favor of community-based services that often do not yet exist, concludes the AJC's investigation. 

Few patients receive psychiatric care in the emergency rooms. Some get no more than a chair to sit on through the delay. Georgia hospitals reported having spent $68.8 million in 2009 to treat uninsured psychiatric patients in their emergency rooms; that represents an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2006, according to the AJC. The additional costs, healthcare executives told reporters, are the result of the longer delays in transferring patients to state hospitals. 

The AJC notes that these waits coincide with Georgia's efforts to negotiate a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which has alleged that that conditions in the state hospitals violate patients' civil rights. State officials, however, attribute the delays to efforts to a shift from a mental health system dominated by a few regional in-patient institutions to one which will treat patients in their communities. They do acknowledge to the AJC that state hospital admissions are down by 28 percent since July 2009. 

Just since April of this year, more than 230 patients had committed to Georgia psychiatric facilities, with nearly one in five having to have waited at least 24 hours before they were admitted, according to the report. AJC's review of state records shows at least two waited in emergency rooms for seven days; and three others spent more than six days.

To learn more:
- read this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article

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