Effect of Decreasing County Mental Health Services on the Emergency Department

Arica C. Nesper, Beth A. Morris, Lorin M Scher, James F Holmes Jr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Study objective We evaluate the effect of decreasing county mental health services on the emergency department (ED). Methods This is a retrospective before-and-after study at a Level I academic university hospital adjacent to the county mental health treatment center. On October 1, 2009, the county decreased its inpatient psychiatric unit from 100 to 50 beds and closed its outpatient unit. Electronic health record data were collected for ED visits for the 8 months before the decrease in county services (October 2008 to May 2009) and the 8 months after the decrease (October 2009 to May 2010). Data for all adult patients (≥18 years) evaluated for a psychiatric consultation by a licensed clinical social worker were included. Outcome measures included the number of patients evaluated and the ED length of stay for those patients. Results One thousand three hundred ninety-two patient visits included a psychiatry consultation for the study period. The median age was 38 years (interquartile range [IQR] 27, 49), with no difference in age between periods. The mean number of daily psychiatry consultations increased from 1.3 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2 to 1.5) before closure to 4.4 (95% CI 4.1 to 4.7) afterward, with a difference in means of 3.0 visits (95% CI 2.7 to 3.3 visits). Average ED length of stay for psychiatry consultation patients was 14.1 hours (95% CI 13.1 to 15.0 hours) before closure and 21.9 hours (95% CI 20.7 to 23.2 hours) afterward, with a difference in means of 7.9 hours (95% CI 5.5 to 10.2 hours). Conclusion The number of visits and length of stay for patients undergoing psychiatric consultation in the ED increased significantly after a decrease in county mental health services. This phenomenon has important implications for future policy to address the challenges of caring for patients with psychiatric needs in our communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)525-530
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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