Study Shows Majority of Psych Patients at Community Hospitals Treated in Specialty Units

Heather Comak, June 3, 2010

A new study finds that an overwhelming majority of psychiatric patients treated at community hospitals are cared for in specialty units, as opposed to in general medical/surgical beds. "Nevertheless, we must continue to be vigilant and ensure that access to needed specialized treatment is provided as health reform shapes new care systems," said Pamela S. Hyde, JD, SAMHSA Administrator, in a press release.

The study, published in the June 2 issue of Psychiatric Services, was funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Researchers working on the study were interested in finding out how many patients at community hospitals (not freestanding psychiatric hospitals) are treated in separate psychiatric units and how many are treated in general medical/surgical beds, often known as "scatter beds," and examine the differences between the two populations. By utilizing data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Databases, the researchers found that only 6.8% of psychiatric patients are treated in scatter beds. Some notable comparisons include:

  • Patients in scatter beds were 50% less likely to also have a substance abuse disorder
  • Almost 40% of patients from scatter beds had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, episodic mood disorder, or depression
  • Patients in general psychiatric units were less likely to be elderly patients on Medicare

However, there was a wide variation between states' rates of psychiatric discharges, which could mean that a better assessment should be made of the need for psychiatric beds in certain regions.

Ultimately the researchers think that more work needs to be done to figure out what the optimal number of dedicated psychiatric beds in community hospitals is, and how to best use scatter beds to treat patients with psychiatric conditions.

Heather Comak Heather Comak is a Managing Editor at HCPro, Inc., where she is the editor of the monthly publication Briefings on Patient Safety, as well as patient safety-related books and audio conferences. She is also is the Assistant Director of the Association for Healthcare Accreditation Professionals. Contact Heather by e-mailing
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