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Too Few Psychiatric Beds: Psychiatrists’ Group Takes Aim at Ongoing Crisis

Having enough inpatient beds would cut down on overcrowding in emergency departments

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Amid a stark shortage of psychiatric beds that only worsened for millions suffering from mental illnesses during the pandemic, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is rolling out a new model that can help communities determine exactly how many beds they need.

Having enough inpatient beds would cut down on overcrowding in emergency departments and early release from needed care, the APA added.

“It’s not a secret that we have a dire need for psychiatric inpatient beds in this country, but there hasn’t been a good way to assess these needs,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D. He spoke during a media briefing Tuesday on a new report that addresses the problem.

The model developed by the APA uses many variables to determine exactly how many psychiatric inpatient beds a community needs. Variables include available staff as well as local resources such as mental health clinics and socioeconomic status indicators, including insurance, education, and the employment status of residents.

There is not a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how many inpatient psychiatric beds a community needs, Anita Everett, M.D., task force chair on the report and a past APA president, told HealthDay. For example, the number of community outpatient clinics and support services available can mitigate the number of inpatient beds needed. These facilities can also help treat people with mental illness so they do not need to be hospitalized, she said.

Lack of available inpatient beds is a big issue for children and adolescents with mental illnesses, Sandra DeJong, M.D., told HealthDay. She served as the chair of the task force subgroup on child and adolescent psychiatric beds and is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “In general, we try to avoid inpatient psychiatric care for kids because it can be quite traumatizing for them to be away from their family, so we advocate for the least restrictive services,” DeJong said.

This is why an increase in inpatient beds alone will not fix the current crisis. Some communities simply need more outpatient services available for children who are struggling.

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