Monday, December 10, 2007

A Dangerous Wait for Treatment

Here are some excerpts from an article that appeared on December 9, 2007 in the Austin-American Statesman, "After policy change, ERs seeing more mentally ill patients":

"It's been one month since Austin's mental health authority slashed the number of patients it sends to the Austin State Hospital.

Since then, nearly 30 people with mental health crises have been routed to local emergency rooms, which don't have adequate expertise or facilities to deal with psychiatric patients. The number of Travis County prisoners with mental illness waiting to be transferred to a state hospital has jumped from 30 to 43. And local health officials don't know when relief will come."

"The mental health center runs the county's public mental health system. The quasi-nonprofit, which operates on government and private dollars, provides psychiatric care for low-income, uninsured and indigent people. It also sends people to state-run psychiatric hospitals.

How many people can go to those hospitals, and how long they can stay, is largely ruled by money.

The Texas Department of State Health Services gives the center $8.4 million a year to spend on psychiatric hospitalizations. That generally translates to 63 people per day.

But for years, because Austin has a shortage of psychiatric hospital beds, the center routinely housed up to 110 patients in Austin State Hospital at any given time. Now, the state is telling the center to stop exceeding its quota or pay the state millions of dollars for the care of those extra patients.

That makes emergency rooms the new safety net for many mentally ill people."

"Meanwhile, a number of people in the Travis County Correction Complex deemed incompetent to stand trial are now waiting months to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital. Some have been waiting to be moved since September, said Sgt. Kitty Hicks of the Travis County sheriff's office."

Read the full article.

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