Dealing with Mental Health Can't Wait: Retreat Employee Publishes Op-Ed

(April 20, 2017) Following her testimony before the New Hampshire state legislature in March, the Keene Sentinel published Caitlin League's remarks as an opinion piece on Friday, April 14. Caitlin is an admissions coordinator here at the Retreat.

Here is her full article along with a web-link at the bottom to the Keene Sentinal website:

I want you to imagine that someone close to you such as a spouse or parent, has had a stroke. They are rushed to the local emergency room, where they are evaluated and then told they can only be treated in a neurology unit and there are no beds available in any of the neurological units in the state. You are told that your loved one is on the waiting list with 67 other stroke patients across the state, and will need to wait in the emergency department for possibly several weeks.

Continue to imagine that you watch your loved one be held there as their health slowly deteriorates while waiting in a loud, busy, chaotic emergency department. They are kept in a small, cell-like room, with only a bed and a chair with a security guard posted outside the door as if they are a criminal. If all the rooms are occupied by other such patients, beds are placed in the hallway while they wait, 24 hours a day, with nurses and doctors constantly running by with the sound of people crying and screaming in the background.

You see patients with other illnesses being admitted to the hospital immediately while your loved one continues to wait, day after day after day. Finally, after two weeks, a bed becomes available and the patient is transferred to another hospital. Your loved one is much sicker now than they would have been if they had been immediately transferred after their initial evaluation in the ER, and will need to be hospitalized for much longer because of how much they went downhill while waiting for a bed to become available.

This is what is now required of psychiatric patients in New Hampshire. If someone arrived at any emergency room in the state suffering from a stroke, issues they would never sit in the ER for weeks — or even hours — waiting for a bed. No other type of patient would ever be treated like this.

We have created a class system in health care where psychiatric patients are indeed second-class patients. They are not treated with the same respect and dignity. This practice is stigmatizing, discriminatory and incredibly costly, but most importantly, ethically and morally wrong.

Our mental-health system here in New Hampshire is in crisis, especially concerning the lack of psychiatric beds available and the warehousing of involuntary psychiatric patients in emergency departments while they are waiting for a bed to become available on a psychiatric unit in the state.

The state of New Hampshire has roughly 160 inpatient psychiatric beds. The Treatment Advocacy Center suggests states should have at least 40 to 50 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people. The U.S. Census Bureau puts New Hampshire’s population at approximately 1.3 million, which means the State should have close to 650 beds. Because of the lack of beds, both adults and children are having to wait, sometimes for weeks on end, in local emergency rooms before a bed becomes available.

We are often told that there just isn’t enough money in the budget to pay for increased mental-health services. But if we look closely, we would find we are already paying for it through extended emergency department care, the criminal justice system, longer hospitalizations due to increased wait times without proper treatment, and lives lost to suicide. Yes, there are many suicidal individuals out there, myself included at one point, who have avoided seeking treatment because of these wait times. There are people in this state who have committed suicide due to the lack of treatment options.

Our state Legislature and governor are considering ways to address the psychiatric-bed crisis in New Hampshire. Please contact your state legislators to advocate for increased funding for mental-health crisis services — including, but not limited to, more psychiatric inpatient beds, hospital diversion programs, respite beds and mobile crisis teams.

By Caitlin Rose League

Caitlin Rose League, BSW, of Keene is an admissions coordinator at the Brattleboro Retreat, the co-facilitator for the Consumer Advisory Council and a member of the board for Monadnock Peer Support.

Here is a link to the article as published by The Keene Sentinel.