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1 in 10 EDs Boarding Psych Patients for 'One Week or More'

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 16, 2010

What's more, 60% of ED administrators said long board times for the mentally ill "have compromised quality of care, in some cases for mental health care patients only and in some cases for all patients."

Sandra Schneider, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, says she is "not at all surprised by these statistics.

"There's an enormous problem in large and small hospitals across the country, with facilities holding psychiatric patients—sometimes 15 or 16—and kept there for days. We've been seeing this problem for decades."

Schneider says that while in the emergency department, "most of the time they are receiving very little if any mental health care. The most they might get is some sedation so they don't act out and disturb other patients. And there's a feeling among individuals that these patients are not sick, when they are some of our sickest, most vulnerable patients."

A big piece of the problem is the acute need for appropriately equipped holding facilities staffed with professionals who specialize in patients with mental illness and patients who have substance abuse issues. And many emergency room patients may also be suicidal, according to a Sentinel Alert issued last month by the Joint Commission.

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