Bottlenecks in mental health services – Part 1: California’s shortage of psychiatric bed impacts mental treatment

Bottlenecks in mental health services – Part 1: California’s shortage of psychiatric bed impacts mental treatment

Shortage of psychiatric beds in state mental facilities across the nation is negatively affecting the treatment of people with severe mental illness. This is forcing people suffering from mental illness to get lodged in emergency rooms, hospitals and jails while they wait for their treatment. As per experts, the practice of shifting patients with severe mental illness to other wards makes the patients receive little or no mental health service.

As per California Hospital Association (CHA), as of 2014, California had 29 hospitals as acute psychiatric hospitals (APH) and 27 county-run psychiatric health facilities. The General Acute Care Hospitals (GACHs) have 81 facilities that are dedicated psychiatric units. California has nearly 440 GACHs, of which about 88 have such dedicated psychiatric units. When combined, these hospitals and facilities provide a combined total of 6,587 beds around the state for individuals requiring short-term or long-term psychiatric inpatient services.

According to mental health experts, there should be a minimum of one bed for every 2,000 people with serious psychiatric disorders. As per 2014 population census, as compared to the national average of one psych bed for every 5,099 people, California has only one psych bed for every 5,886 patients.

As per 2012 report by the U.S. Census Bureau and Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), the number of psychiatric beds in California is on a continuous decline. As per the reports, in California, 25 counties are without adult beds, 45 counties are without child/adolescent beds, 57 counties are without long-term care beds, 53 counties are without psych intensive care beds, and 25 counties have zero inpatient psych services.

The June 2016 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization, said that the percentage of state psychiatric beds has come down about 13 percent since 2010. The reduction in beds has left people with severe mental illness without treatment. As per the Treatment Advocacy Center, California had 15.1 beds per 100,000 people in 2016.

Reasons for decline in psychiatric beds

Mary Giliberti, the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) had clarified in March 2014 that along with the shortage in funding for mental health, there was a general shortage of beds for people suffering from mental health problems.

A decline in psychiatric beds may be due to effective psychiatric medicines and a growing preference to keep people with mental illnesses in less restrictive settings. Between 2009 and 2012, the total public mental health spending took a cut of $4.35 billion due to recession.

Impact of acute psychiatric bed shortage and declining mental health services

On identification of a mental disorder, individuals should be sent to stet-contracted evaluation, stabilization, and treatment center within 72 hours. As per mental health advocates, failure to treat severe mental illness can result in worsening of mental illness and gradually increase the likelihood of needing inpatient services.

Lack of psychiatric beds in public psychiatric hospitals may risk health care for patients who are poor and suffer from severe mental illnesses. As per the Treatment Advocacy Center’s, the 2016 Going, Going, Gone Trends and Consequences of Eliminating State Psychiatric Beds report, the national average of psychiatric beds has decreased tremendously. The report also stated that shortage of psychiatric beds has led to boarding of patients with severe mental illness in hospital emergency rooms and contributed to longer waiting lists from prisons for hospital admissions.

Recently many states are taking effective measures to identify the availability of psychiatric beds through updated online tracking system. States like Virginia and Georgia have started building online registers to identify open psychiatric beds and to provide them on a need-by-need basis.

Help at hand

Mental disorders characterized by changes in behavior, thoughts and mood can hinder daily life activities and negatively impact a person’s life. If you or someone you know is suffering from some kind of mental illness, contact the California Mental Health Helpline to know about the various mental health facilities in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online to speak with experts who can help you find some of the best mental health treatment centers in California.