Report: 4,311 N.Y. Hospital Beds Needed for Mentally Ill

Staff Reporter of the Sun

Appeared in New York Sun
March 17, 2008
Section: New York >

New York’s public hospitals are short 4,311 beds for mentally ill individuals, according to a report to be published today by a national advocacy group for psychiatric patients.

In the report, by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, researchers documented a nationwide shortage of about 100,000 beds in public psychiatric hospitals. The evaluation is based on a conclusion by researchers that states should have a minimum of 50 psychiatric beds in public hospitals for each 100,000 state residents.

Using that standard, states with a “critical bed shortage” included Nevada, which had 5.1 beds for each 100,000 individuals, and Arizona, which had 5.9 beds for each 100,000 individuals.

New York fell into a more moderate category, “serious bed shortage,” with 27.4 beds for each 100,000 individuals. In 2005, researchers found, New York had 5,269 psychiatric beds, 4,311 fewer than the 9,580 recommended by researchers.

Mississippi was the only state that met the recommended ratio, with 49.7 beds for each 100,000 individuals.

“If a state like Mississippi, which is poor, can afford to have the required number of public psychiatric hospital beds, than certainly states like New York should be able to follow suit,” the executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, Kurt Entsminger, said. Officials from the state Office of Mental Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the agency’s 2008–09 executive budget outlines several recommendations for promoting mental health, including collaborating with the state Department of Health to create two integrated health and mental services facilities, and to expand supported housing for people with mental illness.

Reached by telephone, researchers said the shortage of psychiatric beds has fueled overcrowding in emergency rooms and increased homelessness and violent crimes committed by individuals who are not getting appropriate psychiatric treatment.

“There is a direct link between the failure to provide beds and treat people and the social disasters we’re looking at,” the report’s lead author, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, said.

He pointed to violent crimes around the country, such as a shooting spree at Virginia Tech and the murder of a therapist on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“This is not unique to New York; it is a problem all over the United States,” Dr. Torrey said. Compared to other states, New York “doesn’t look that bad,” he said, referring to the number of psychiatric beds in the state.

New York’s mental health laws have been “relatively progressive” in treating individuals with mental illness, Dr. Torrey said.

In 1999, New York enacted legislation to assist outpatient treatment for certain people with mental illness. The law, named Kendra’s Law, was passed after a woman, Kendra Webdale, was pushed in front of a subway train by a mentally ill individual who was not receiving treatment.

“But there’s always been a large difference in terms of quality of care,” Dr. Torrey said. “Upstate, there has been generally some reasonably good care. Around New York City itself, it has always tended to be not as good.”