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Pa. docs: Psychiatric bed shortage stressing ERs

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A shortage of psychiatric beds in Pennsylvania is stressing emergency rooms across the state, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, which in response has endorsed the development of a voluntary tracking system.

“The demand for behavioral health services on an acute basis has been skyrocketing at the same time as funding for community resources such as long-term behavioral health facilities has been shrinking,” Dr. Bruce A. MacLeod, president of the society and a practicing emergency medicine physician in Pittsburgh, said in a news release.

According to a national 2008 study by the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, in 2005 there were 17 public psychiatric beds available per 100,000 population compared to 340 per 100,000 in 1955. The study’s experts suggested a minimum of 50 public psychiatric beds per 100,000 population; 42 states had less than half that many beds, and only one state — Mississippi — met that recommendation.

“These patients essentially have nowhere to go, and sometimes have to wait for hours or days to receive a psychiatric evaluation after showing up in an emergency department,” MacLeod said. “If a tracking system could be developed to let us know where beds are available, then we could get these patients to the right treatment environment in a timely, patient focused fashion.”

The issue was raised at the society’s annual House of Delegates in Hershey on Oct. 26 and 27, where more than 200 physicians voted to endorse the development of a voluntary shared bed tracking system for behavioral health and detoxification beds.

The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society and the Pennsylvania Medical Society Specialty Leadership Cabinet hope to gather key stakeholders, including the Pennsylvania State Department of Health and the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, to develop a real-time voluntary reporting system of available psychiatric and substance-use detoxification beds by region.

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