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Sacramento Business Journal

August 27, 2010

Mental health care on edge

A local hospital emergency room struggling to cope with 10 patients with severe mental illness last summer put two patients with paranoid schizophrenia in the same room. They attacked each other — and an observer hired by the hospital who tried to separate them.

When 10 psychiatric patients showed up in the same ER two weeks ago, a social worker and a team of mental health professionals were able to tell hospital staff who could be put together safely. A patient rocking up and down in bed, with fists clenched, was attended to before the behavior turned violent.

“That’s where we are now, versus a year ago,” said Kim Meyers, nursing director for adult inpatient and emergency department services at Sutter Medical Center Sacramento.

Triage by psych professionals in the ER is one of the recommendations made by a coalition of hospital executives, county staff, nonprofit community providers and consumer advocates who have met in three work groups since February to tackle the problem — and develop a plan for an integrated system of care that meets the needs on all sides (see recommendations, at right).