National Campaign To Expose Bed Shortage Launched This Week: Hopes To End Psychiatric Boarding

(10-5-16) Everywhere I travel to give speeches, I hear the same complaint: there are no treatment beds readily available for persons who are in a mental health crisis.

Psychiatric “boarding” in emergency rooms has become a national problem.

This week, the Treatment Advocacy Center is turning a spotlight on the inpatient bed shortage by launching a national campaign called: A Bed Instead. 

In an email to me, TAC’s Executive Director John Snook said the campaign is designed to educate and engage.

Everyone in mental health knows the system is in crisis. But we too often find that those not personally affected by mental illness simply have no idea just how bad the levels of care can be. This campaign sets out to change that.

It shouldn’t be only those with a mental illness and their families who are disgusted by a system that substitutes jail cells for treatment beds. Or one that eliminates nearly all of the crisis care beds as a budget cutting measure and relegates those in need to ER hallways. These are human rights issues that impact us all, whether we have or know someone who has a severe mental illness… or not.

The aBedInstead campaign will bring these issues to the public, creating a movement that can no longer be ignored.

During a recent trip to California, I heard about 13 hour waits in emergency rooms for patients experiencing a psychotic break. In Washington state, I was told it could be up to 24 hours. One North Carolina jurisdiction told me that it could take as long as three days to find a bed. It is not uncommon for troublesome patients to be handcuffed to gurneys or restrained by the police while waiting for a bed.

According to Dr. Scott Zeller, the past president of the American Association for Emergency Psychiatry, patients needing a psychiatric bed wait three times longer than other patients and it takes emergency room personnel twice as long to locate a bed for them.

News stories about Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds  being turned away from a mental health center because no local bed was available helped expose our lack-of-beds national scandal. His son, Gus, attacked him before taking his own life — a preventable tragedy if Gus had been admitted and received treatment.

More recently, I wrote about a local Fairfax County case where a suicidal individual left the new Merrifield crisis center after waiting four hours and being told no beds were open.

According to TAC, in the past five decades, inpatient beds for those with SMI have dropped by 96.5 percent in the United States. A Bed Instead aims to educate and call the public to take action to support the 8.1 million people with SMI with the support and treatment they need, TAC said in a press release.

TAC traditionally has focused on promoting Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws. But it also has been at the forefront of releasing studies that have exposed how jails and prisons have become dumping grounds for persons with SMIs and how bed shortages have contributed to inappropriate incarceration. By doing so, it has cemented its claim that it is “only national nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to eliminating legal and other barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness.”

You can join the Treatment Advocacy Center and support A Bed Instead campaign by:

Taking the Treatment Advocacy Center pledge

Watching and sharing the A Bed Instead video

Reading real people’s stories of dealing with SMI

Learning more about serious mental illness in the U.S.

Once you sign the pledge, you will begin receiving information about how you can help publicize the A Bed Instead campaign and advocate for more access to crisis care beds.

I receive emails each week from readers who ask me what they can do to make a difference. Here is an opportunity.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.