Minnesota hospitals are struggling to find remedies for a lack of psychiatric beds as the number of patients in the state seeking mental healthcare rises.
Mental health admissions in approximately 100 Minnesota hospitals increased 16% from 1997 to 2001, challenging hospitals to keep up with the pace, according to a recent study from the Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership. In many cases, patients have been transferred to hospitals several hundred miles away from their families and friends because there is a backlog at their local hospitals.
"This is an emerging crisis," said Bruce Rueben, president of the hospital association, which has 130 members. "Our ability to provide the service is being outstripped by the demand. It is not a good picture for the patients or the providers."
Minnesota, however, is not the only state facing the problem. Ohio also is trying to meet the demand of increasing mental health patient admissions, too, Rueben said. The Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, covering 10 counties, is awaiting results from a similar survey measuring mental health needs. Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, has seen a 36% increase in mental health discharges from 2000 through the end of 2001, according to the hospital association.
Kathy Knight, director of behavioral services at Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis, transfers about 10 patients a day to other facilities because of a lack of beds. The seven-hospital system has 211 mental health beds, including chemical dependency beds.
"We have seen a change in demand the last couple of years," Knight said. "It is a challenge."
The lack of psychiatric beds is affecting hospitals because staff members spend a tremendous amount of time trying to find other facilities to which they can transfer patients, Rueben said. Staff members also have to tell families that their loved ones could be transferred several hours from home.
"To get a patient in, assess them and take them on a five-hour ambulance ride to North Dakota, you can see how dissatisfying and uncomfortable it is for the patient and the family," Knight said.
Rueben said he does not know the exact cause for the boom in cases, but he pointed to a dramatic increase in admissions of patients ages 15 to 20. That age group experienced a 24% increase in mental health admissions from 1997 to 2001, according to the association's study released last month. Admissions of patients over 21, on the other hand, increased 15%.
Poor insurance reimbursement and the overall lack of psychiatrists in the state are also to blame, Knight said. According to the study, 31% of the hospitals surveyed reported a shortage in psychiatrists at their facilities.
The hospital association has formed a committee of about 50 providers, insurers and regulators to develop programs to improve state funding for psychiatric care, study existing state psychiatric programs and look at ways to hire more psychiatrists.
Providing more funding and resources for psychiatric units and creating new programs for quality care in communities could help hospitals catch up with the growing number of psychiatric admissions, Knight said. By providing better local care programs, patients would be more likely to head there first before going to a hospital, she said.
"I would like the providers, insurers and the state to understand the urgency of the problem," Rueben said. "There is a screaming need in Minnesota."