Over a 2½-year period, Aaron Hernandez was taken to the emergency department at a California hospital eight times on a 72-hour involuntary psychiatric hold. Doctors told the teen's family that inpatient treatment had to be voluntary, and Aaron, legally an adult at 18, would refuse.
“They would pseudo-stabilize him and let him go,” said his father, Anthony Hernandez. “They always made it clear there is a waiting period to get a bed, which only intensified the dilemma.”
Anthony Hernandez spoke by cellphone as he drove from the California state psychiatric hospital that now houses his 20-year-old son. In September 2014, Aaron, in a delusional state, stabbed both his parents with a knife and used a baseball bat to beat the family dog to death. He was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.
His family believes that the long waits for a bed prevented Aaron from getting the treatment he needed when he was in crisis. “They would make it difficult for us to get admission,” Anthony Hernandez said. “And we would be forced to take our sick, gravely disabled son back home with us for more chaos.”
Across the country, the number of psychiatric patients waiting in an emergency department for an inpatient bed has reached crisis levels. The wait typically lasts several hours or days, but can be as long as several weeks at some hospitals.
About a year ago, PatientValet, a small digital health startup, created a simple technology to track available psychiatric beds throughout a state. It allows hospitals to post and search for available beds, which are sortable based on a patient's needs. It would be a first for California.
“We started by going hospital by hospital to introduce the technology,” said Leila Entezam, the company's chief strategy officer. “We expected this to be simple and it's far from.”
Hospitals, it seemed, didn't want their competitors to see their bed availability. They also worried about staffing levels and low reimbursement from certain insurers, said Mike Bruner, PatientValet's CEO.