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Minnesota emergency rooms forced to serve as mental health wards

A new report finds that Minnesota hospitals are unable to care for mental health patients due to a lack of beds, and as a result, they are spending weeks boarding in emergency departments.

According to a report by the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, psychiatric patients must often wait in emergency departments for days or even weeks before a bed can be found in an appropriate treatment center. This has adverse effects on both the patient and emergency room staff, who have been chronically short-staffed for years.

The report states that the lack of appropriate care can lead to “increased morbidity and mortality” and “disparities in care for poor and uninsured patients.”

Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota, was on the task force that authored the report.

“People aren’t getting in to access care when and where they need it. We have to think about this issue as a front door and backdoor issue. If people know for example we have mobile crisis teams in all of our counties, they know to call the crisis team, they might get their issues resolved, because they would know our teams prevent hospitalizations. But a lot of people don't know that.”

The report states that emergency department boarding patients are close to five times more likely to be seeking care for a psychiatric diagnosis. Emergency department boardings - or EDBs - have been linked to directly exacerbating mental health outcomes, as extended periods in emergency departments can lead to exposure to traumatic events as well as heightened anxiety and agitation.

The report recommends the creation of an EDB database and expanding telehealth services so those stuck in EDB have the resources to mitigate negative mental health outcomes.

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