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Longer Waits at Psych Wards


Long LinesMay 31, National Public Radio aired an article about the dearth of psychiatric facilities for those in need of emergency mental health care.  The article featured a mother, Kathy Partridge, talking about her daughter, Jessie Glasscock, who went struggled with manic episodes.  Police found Glasscock in a dumpster after she had been missing overnight and took her to a hospital, where she waited in an exam room for 24 hours on a stainless steel table without adequate food in a medical gown.  This is how Kathy Partridge found her daughter.  This kind of wait is not at all unusual (Whitney, 2012).

A nationwide study found that patients coming to emergency rooms for mental illness have an average waiting time of 11.5 hours before being treated or released.  Weiss considers the affects of this wait time to be large on the patients, “that is, in many ways, their first introduction to mental health care is, in my mind, very, very devastating” (Whitney, 2012).

In addition to the huge decrease of psych wards during President Reagan’s days, more and more hospitals are closing their psychiatric wards because they are far less profitable than other forms of health care.  The reimbursement rates simply are not as high.  I know that my insurance covers very little of my mental health related costs.  Additionally, many of the individuals may not be insured or have the funds to pay.  The low profitability from emergency psychiatric care is largely accountable for the nationwide trends of decreased availability for mental health care.


Despite the fact that there is little profitability directly from psychiatric wards, one hospital chain in Denver, Denver’s HealthOne, is opening a psychiatric ward specifically to decrease its wait time and better serve the community’s medical needs.  By having a psychiatric ward to divert patients from the emergency room to instead of having them languish away for hours and hours in the emergency room examination rooms where other patients could be seen, the hospital would actually recoup their losses through more efficiently seeing a larger number of patients (Whitney, 2012).


The comments on the NPR page reflected different views about the issue.  Some individuals who work in the emergency medical field perhaps work in regions better equipped to deal with mental health emergencies and responded that their wait times tended to be closer to 3-4 hours for triage to evaluate patients before working with supervisors and insurance companies (from Healther G.).   Other individuals commented about their experiences that were similar to what the story said.  One reflected on a very suicidal night when she checked into a psychiatric ward and had to wait a full 24 hours.  She said that if she felt that way again, she would hesitate to “ask for help, knowing what I will have to sit through” (susan lewis).

As for myself, when I went into a psychiatric hospital, I was lucky.  My therapist called ahead of time, and I took a taxicab.  When I arrived, I filled out a form and read Harry Potter.  It did take three hours before I got to my room (lacking shoelaces, belts, drawstrings, pens, and knitting needles), but they gave me a full meal while I was waiting, and they had been very nice about the whole thing.  While I was waiting for someone to ask me about my psychiatric history, they left my door open, and I was lucky enough for a developmentally challenged man who regularly stayed in the facility to come into my room.  He told me everyone was nice, and he would introduce me to everyone.  It turned out that the developmentally challenged clients stayed in a different wing, but whenever we passed in the hallways he would give me a big hug.


Whitney, E. (2012, May 31). As Psychiatric Wards Close, Patients Languish in Emergency Rooms. Retrieved 2012, from NPR


By Emily F.


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