Iowa hospital ER's dealing with more and more mental health pati - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa hospital ER's dealing with more and more mental health patients

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Iowa's hospital Emergency Rooms are being inundated with mental health patients.

“We are absolutely overwhelmed. We're overwhelmed as a staff. We're overwhelmed as a department. We're overwhelmed as a hospital. And the entire region is just completely overwhelmed,” says Dr. James Ellis of Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo.

Dr. Ellis was one of several people interviewed for a special one-hour edition of The Steele Report on KWWL. The program examined what many are calling Iowa's mental health crisis.

“Community resources is really the big thing. They (patients) don't have resources. They don't have anywhere to go, except the Emergency Department they are in crisis.”

Covenant Medical Center has an inpatient psychiatric ward and a huge population of mental health patients. Many of those patients first arrive at the Covenant Emergency Room.

One of the initial questions is if a mental health patient needs to be admitted, how long they will need to stay in the hospital and where can they be transferred for longer term care.

ER doctors first assess a patients medical needs to make sure they are physically okay, then the psychiatric issues are addressed.

There are 5 hold rooms in the Emergency Room, while the Covenant Psychiatric Unit upstairs has 16 adult beds and 4 beds for adolescents ages 12 to 17.

There are few, if any, pediatric beds in the State of Iowa.

Unfortunately, hospital ER's also get a lot of aggressive patients. They are a threat to themselves and a threat to the hospital staff.

Covenant has several ER rooms with a convertible door. It's really like a garage door.

“By day, it's a regular ER room with all of the monitors that you hear and oxygen...But, if we need to put a patient in there that may be aggressive to staff or may be suicidal, we can close a door in there and the room is completely empty. There's no equipment. There's nothing that can hurt anybody in there. And, then we can bring it up if it's a regular day and bring it down if it's a psychiatric patient.”

Dr. Ellis points out, “One of the big issues is the lack of funding and the lack of community resources. And, so they don't have resources. They may not get on their medicines. They may not have funding for their medicines...and then everything just spirals out of control.

And, the funnel sort of goes to local ER's. Don't know what to do with the mental health patient. The mental health patient is out of control. Law enforcement is not sure...are they medical? Are they intoxicated ? Are they mental health? They all come here (The ER). So, they end up coming here and, we end up being the clearinghouse on where they need to go at that point.”

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