People who have accepted mental health diagnoses have been seeking treatment for their symptoms in emergency rooms in large numbers lately. The situation first started because of recent governmental and state funding cuts. States across the nation cut more than $5 billion in funding for mental health programs from 2009 to 2012. Additionally, various inpatient institutions cut a total of 4,500 beds from their programs in the same time frame.

The decrease in funding continues to grow each passing year, and so does the number of people with mental health categorized diagnoses. Such patients desire an immediate resolution for their symptoms when they arise. They lack knowledge of other options that they may have for treatment, so they turn to the emergency room.


Increasing number of ER visits for non-physical issues

Rapidly increasing emergency room visits have taken a toll on hospitals over the years. More than 5%, or 6 million of the nation’s ER visits, were for non-physical issues. These visits affected emergency rooms in numerous ways. First, they filled up the facilities and deprived beds to people who had physical emergencies from getting the care that they needed. Secondly, the visits caused the hospitals to accrue multiple expenses to run essential tests and handle administrative processing.

Hospitals had to spend more than $20 billion in 2003 to care for such patients. The amount is expected to increase to more than $40 billion over the next few years. This figure squanders hospital resources and often exhausts medical staff. Most hospitals are already short-staffed, and additional patients only aggravate the problem. Staff members are often given more duties than they can handle just to meet the needs of everyone in the facility. Patients who were there for physical issues received subpar care and experienced long wait times because of the overflow of patients with non-physical ailments.


An attempted resolution

Many hospitals have tried to deal with this problem by adding wards and additional sections that are exclusively for people who have mental health issues. The hospitals tried to create these centers so that the non-physical patients could get the type of attention they felt that they needed. Unfortunately, the funding cuts thwarted many of those projects. Each state is currently trying to figure out how it is going to deal with overcrowding issues.


A recent solution that could gain traction with other facilities

Facilities such as the Turning Point Center in Skokie, Illinois, may have a solution for dealing with the overwhelming number of people who have visited emergency rooms for problems that specialists placed in the mental health category. The Turning Point Center offers an alternative for people who are having such problems. These patients can check into the “Living Room” instead of crowding the emergency center and racking up unnecessary costs. The Living Room is a secluded program that places patients in a comfortable carpeted area with friendly staff members and attentive counselors.

The Living Room provides a comfortable artistic setting that reduces the nervousness and stress that hospital environments foster. The homelike environment calms the patients and accelerates their recoveries in many cases. Patients still receive five-star quality care and access to medications. The difference is that these patients receive the personalized attention that they need without needing to meet burdensome of out-of-pocket expenses. State grants have provided the funding for the program and allowed patients to receive care with little or no expenses. More than 200 people received treatment from the Living Room during its first year of operation. The program served as a model for other programs that can provide appropriate care to people in need.

To learn more about the effects of mental health care budget cuts, check out this infographic created by the Cummings Institute’s Doctorate in Behavioral Health degree program.

Emergency Rooms and Mental Health Infographic

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of life, including raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, she enjoys practicing yoga, playing volleyball and lacrosse, and reading a good book on the beach.


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