Amid COVID-19, hospitals nationwide have been forced to cut or repurpose behavioral health beds to make room for coronavirus patients. At the same time, overdoses and suicides are on the rise.
In New York state — which once contained the country’s worst COVID-19 hotspot — the problem is especially pronounced, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
There, about 400 psychiatric beds and 150 SUD beds remain closed, according to state data reported by the publication. On the psychiatric front, that’s more beds than have closed in the past five years.
While those numbers are an improvement over spring and early summer, when 542 psychiatric beds and 403 SUD beds were lost, they present life-threatening problems for patients.
“There are not enough providers, not enough beds and not enough hands on deck,” Abby Venzor, a New York therapist, told the WSJ. Her patient was unable to get treatment at 10 different hospitals, according to the article.
Meanwhile, the problem has prompted those patients who do get hospital-based behavioral health care to be discharged prematurely, according to several health care workers and family members included in the piece.
Such was the case for Imani Fecu, who died of a likely heroin overdose in June.
Fecu, who had schizoaffective and bipolar disorder, was discharged from Health + Hospitals/Kings County public hospital after just a few days back in late March.
“She crashed and there was no safety net for her crashing,” Fecu’s grandmother Sandra Lindie told the WSJ.
Some worry the loss of behavioral beds — which has also occurred in states such as Illinois and Texas — will be permanent. That’s because hospitals often find it more lucrative to treat patients with physical health needs, and COVID-19-related financial strain have made such cost considerations especially relevant.
If hospital-based psychiatric and SUD beds remain closed, community-based behavioral health providers — who are already overburdened — will likely feel the consequences.
To some extent, that’s already started to happen. According to a National Council for Behavioral Health member survey from September, more than 65% of respondents said they’d had to cancel, reschedule or turn away patients.
You can read the full WSJ article here.