Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2011
With a sharp decrease in psychiatric beds and with mental health staffs spread thin across California, emergency rooms increasingly have become costly and ineffective baby-sitting services for mentally disturbed patients in crisis. The economic downturn and budget cuts are exacerbating a chronic problem, creating added safety risks at hospitals and placing a burden on already crowded emergency rooms. Meanwhile, hospitals are increasingly facing a dilemma: They can't find proper facilities to care for the patients yet can't release them to the streets. "We are inundated with these patients," said Marc Futernick, California Hospital's director of emergency services. "The design of the system is that everyone gets taken care of in a timely fashion. The system is broken." That breakdown can be costly. Hospitals get stuck caring for uninsured psychiatric patients; the public has fewer emergency room beds available; and the mentally ill often do not get the therapy and medication they need.