While I have always known that there is a massive bed shortage for psychiatric patients, it has become even more evident to me recently. This bed shortage is not only seen in the United States, but also in Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as many other countries. My focus will be on the US, but if you want to read a personal account of someone struggling with the NHS in London to get a bed, I recommend reading “Bed/Crisis” by purplepersuasion.
For those who are not familiar with this shortage, let me explain this in a bit more depth. When I say “psychiatric bed” I mean space in a behavioral health hospital or ward for a patient to be inpatient. Due to this shortage, a lot of patients are held in emergency departments while waiting for a bed to become available. This wait can take days, and typically treatment of the underlying illness does not begin until admission into the behavioral health hospital.
The amount of beds were at an all-time high in 1955, at which point there were 560,000 beds nation-wide. The US now has 37,679 psychiatric beds nationwide. For reference, the population has grown from 1955 to 2017 by 155.5 million. While better medications have been developed more recently, they do not make as large a difference in need as the above statistics would have one believe.
I live in a state with an average number of psychiatric beds. I have been admitted for psychiatric reasons three times. Each time there has been a wait. The first two times I went to an ER where I was held until they could find somewhere to send me, both times I was sent to a hospital 21 miles away, even though the ER I went to shared grounds with a behavioral health hospital. My third admission I went directly to the crisis center at a behavioral health hospital and was admitted to a holding ward while they waited for my real bed to become available.
With the shortage of beds, patients are not only being held in the ER while awaiting a bed, but many are waiting in jails, which is an entire issue in and of itself. Other people who would have benefited from treatment are being sent home because their case isn’t seen as “severe enough” to admit them due to the shortage. This has, quite obviously, resulted in deaths by suicide.
This bed shortage is a known problem, but the number of beds is still going in the wrong direction. The number of beds went down by 13 percent from 2010 to 2016. This is simply unacceptable. If the number of cardiac beds had gone down by 13 percent in six years I can guarantee you that you would hear about it daily until the problem was remedied.
Make sure your representatives know that as their constituent you demand something be done about this shortage. Let’s not let more people in need of help die because there are simply not enough beds to treat them.