One would think that in the year 2017, we would have proper services available to the mentally ill, including ensuring that they’re not being pushed aside and forced into longer wait lines in the ER. Unfortunately, in many emergency rooms throughout Massachusetts, this is the reality that mentally ill patients have to endure day in and day out. According to a recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, these patients could be stuck waiting for hours, or even days, just to receive care, while other patients who aren’t mentally ill enjoy shorter ER wait times.
The study documented and examined data of more than 800 patients spread out between 10 different hospitals during a two-week span in 2012. One of the key points the study examined was how patient boarding accounted for the most time patients spent in the ER. Patient boarding is “when people wait in the emergency department for a hospital bed or transfer to another inpatient hospital.”
The study found that, compared to other patients with physical health problems who spend about four hours in the ER, those with mental health issues “waited an average of 16.5 to 21.5 hours for an admission or a transfer.” It also revealed that the “median length of stay for mental health patients was nearly 11 hours.”
The study also discovered that other factors like a patient’s type of insurance also played a role in ER wait times. Patients with Medicaid, for example, we twice as likely as the privately insured to experience long wait times of a day or more, while those without insurance altogether were 2.8 times more likely to experience similar lengthy wait times.
This just goes to prove that even though mental health has received greater attention over the years, there remains an inequity in care for those suffering from mental health issues. But the thing is, patients with mental illnesses aren’t going away, and they deserve adequate care just like other patients. In fact, some researchers claim that “mental health problems account for an increasing percentage of overall ER visits across the nation,” and those patients often require overnight care. To make them suffer through long wait times is simply unacceptable.
So why are emergency rooms seemingly neglecting the mentally ill? Well, according to the study, “mental health boarding consumes scarce ED [Emergency Department] resources and worsens crowding so that other patients with undifferentiated, potentially life-threatening conditions wait longer to be seen and treated.”
To combat this, researchers and industry experts recommend that hospitals and communities as a whole invest more “resources into creating or supporting community-based mental health services.” To make this happen, emergency physicians, as well as state and federal officials need to work together to improve community-based services and the quality of care the mentally ill receive not only in the ER but in the community as well.