APA Report, Virtual Model Highlight US Psychiatric Bed Crisis

To address the ongoing shortage of available beds in psychiatric facilities, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has developed a computer-simulation model to help estimate the number of beds needed in any specific US community.

The model, introduced in a recent report from the organization, can predict how changes in any component of mental health care in a community, including mobile trauma teams and assertive community treatment, will affect other components and the overall capacity to care for patients with mental illness.

Leaders of the APA task force that drafted the report noted that communities can use the model to confront the ongoing mental health crisis brought about by a lack of inpatient beds, a shortage of mental health professionals, shorter inpatient stays, and a rising number of individuals with mental illness.

The report was first released at the APA’s annual meeting in May and was discussed in further detail at a press briefing this week.

“Part of the wisdom of the APA leadership of releasing this report in this format now is to keep attention and awareness on the issue and acknowledge that there is a terrible shortage of beds,” Anita Everett, MD, past president of the APA and chair of the report’s task force, told briefing attendees.

“We need to have ongoing conversations about how we can solve this problem,” said Everett, who is also director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

A Virtual World

The report describes psychiatric bed use both historically and currently and discusses how the availability of community resources affects the need for inpatient care. It includes analyses of inpatient medical care spending and describes barriers to accessing inpatient psychiatric care.

Historically, the number of state-operated psychiatric hospital beds in the United States was 337 per 100,000 people in the mid-1950s. Today, that figure is about 11.7 state psychiatric hospital beds per 100,000 people, the report says.

The average length of an inpatient stay has also decreased significantly both for adults and children. Pediatric length of stay declined from 12.2 days to 4.4 days between 1990 and 2000.

Launched in 2020, the APA Presidential Task Force on the Assessment of Psychiatric Bed Needs in the US includes more than 30 mental health professionals and members of the APA administration.

The group was charged with drafting a report that explains and defines the current mental health crisis. They were also charged with developing a method for calculating the number of psychiatric beds needed in any given community.

Task force leaders said the model considers how individuals enter the mental health care system and are routed to appropriate services, how long they remain in the system, and the capacity of the system to respond to demand.

The model is based on a “virtual world” that has a number of care components. These include mobile crisis teams, intensive team-based outpatient care, community-based crisis beds, psychiatric hospital beds, and residential and step-down programs.

The model factors in the magnitude of the need for beds in many service areas. Factors include population size, estimates of the rate of acute mental health crises per 100,000 population, adequacy of the community mental health system, the intersection between the mental health and criminal justice systems, and outpatient and inpatient capacities.

The model computes the estimated number of patients waiting in the emergency department, crisis receiving centers, and jail, as well as average wait times. It also calculates the percentage of use of the various services.

The model will be continually updated and can be modified to better reflect the current situation in any given community.

Real-World Testing

A team led by the University of Michigan and two area hospitals is testing the APA model by using it to calculate the number of beds needed in their community.

“Because the model is focused on the continuum of care services, it allows communities to try to focus on what is the right mix of services needed to try to reduce the need for in-patient hospitalization and measure the impact of development of resources across the continuum, including inpatient beds, to try to achieve the right mix,” Gregory Dalack, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Health System, told Medscape Medical News.

Ultimately, Dalack expects that the model will tell the team something they already know: that additional psychiatric beds are needed in their community.

However, meeting the needs of patients and families is not just about beds, he noted. The model will help provide a fuller picture of psychiatric care and will take into account existing services from many aspects of the care field.

“If we put all the focus just on hospital beds, we are only addressing one part of the challenge,” Dalack said.

The challenge is also about “identifying what resources/services are already in the continuum of care, where expansion of those or development of new programs might be needed, and what the impact is on the system, particularly with folks who arrive in the emergency room who might need inpatient admission,” he added.

Everett said the APA leadership team is now actively recruiting others to test the model in their communities, which will help to calibrate the system.

Kelli Whitlock Burton is a reporter for Medscape Medical News who covers psychiatry and neurology.

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