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Mental Health Emergencies Increase when there are fewer Services Available, Study Says

Update Date: Nov 20, 2015 03:49 PM EST

The country should focus more on adding mental health services as opposed to reducing them. According to a new study, when these inpatient and outpatient services are taken away, hospitals end up seeing a spike in emergency cases associated with mental health.

"As is often the case, the emergency department catches everyone who falls through the cracks in the health care system," the lead author Arica Nesper, MD, MAS of the University of California Davis School of Medicine, said reported by MedicalXpress. "People with mental illness did not stop needing care simply because the resources dried up. Potentially serious complaints increased after reductions in mental health services, likely representing not only worse care of patients' psychiatric issues but also the medical issues of patients with psychiatric problems."

For this study, Nesper and colleagues examined how the rate of mental health services affected emergency care numbers in Sacramento County, California over the time span of 16 months. They reported that overall, reductions in psychiatric services led to a three-time increase of emergency psychiatric consultations and a 55 percent spike in the amount of time these patients had to stay at a hospital's emergency room.

More specific findings include:

-When the number of inpatient psychiatric beds fell from 100 to 50 combined with a closed outpatient unit, the average total of psychiatric consults that occur in an emergency room increased from 1.3 to 4.4 per day.

- The reductions also caused the average time spent in the emergency room to increase from 14.1 hours to 21.9 hours.

-350 out of 1,392 mental health patients were kept in the emergency room for more than 24 hours.

-From 2009 to 2011, California cut $587million from mental health services.

"These cuts affect individual patients as well as communities and facilities like emergency departments that step in to care for patients who have nowhere else to turn," Nesper said. "That additional burden on emergency departments has ripple effects for all other patients and the community."

The study was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

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