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Violence against nurses and other medical professionals appears to be increasing around the country as the number of drug addicts, alcoholics and psychiatric patients showing up at emergency rooms climbs.
Visits to ERs for drug- and alcohol-related incidents climbed from about 1.6 million in 2005 to nearly 2 million in 2008, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From 2006 to 2008, the number of those visits resulting in violence jumped from 16,277 to 21,406, the agency said.
Nurses and experts in mental health and addiction say the problem has only been getting worse since then because of the downturn in the economy, as cash-strapped states close state hospitals, cut mental health jobs, eliminate addiction programs and curtail other services.
Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, said economic hard times are the worst time for cuts to mental health programs because anxieties about job loss and lack of insurance increase drug and alcohol use and family fights.
RALEIGH — Patients needing treatment at psychiatric hospitals are waiting for nearly three days on average in emergency rooms and crisis centers across North Carolina, according to a report released Friday.
“Hospital emergency departments are in a very difficult spot,” said Ann Akland, chairwoman of the Wake County group’s advocacy division. “They don’t have the resources to treat these patients. Some of them don’t even have a psychiatrist on call.”
The average wait for patients needing psychiatric care was 2.6 days, compared to an average wait time of less than five hours for all emergency room patients. Some psychiatric patients waited much longer, including 212 who were in emergency rooms for seven days or more.
The result of the long wait times, according to the report, is patients with mental illnesses are often simply restrained, whether by velcro or leather straps or medication, rather than being promptly treated.
The group says the problem lies with the state’s decision, starting in 2001, to reduce the number of beds in state hospitals available to psychiatric patients. That reduction was supposed to be offset by a growth in community-based services like day programs, home visits from mental health professionals and group homes, which the Wake group says never materialized.