Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Real Cost of Psychiatric Hospital Beds

A request for funding to renew staffing for 25 psychiatric beds at Catawba Hospital near Roanoke, Virginia failed in the 2008 Virginal Legislature. This state hospital is located less than 50 miles from Virginia Tech where 33 people died in last April’s shooting rampage by Seung-Hui Cho.

This proposal for $2.2.million was defeated for budgetary reasons. Yes, staffing more public psychiatric beds in Virginia will cost taxpayers more money. But having too few beds is already costing Virginia and other states more than they will ever realize.

The Treatment Advocacy Center recently released a new study The Shortage of Public Hospital Beds for Mentally Ill Persons. This study not only reveals the serious shortage of beds that exists in Virginia and other states but also examines the devastating consequences. Some of the consequences that come from a system that does not have adequate facilities to treat the sickest of the sick include greatly increased homelessness, the warehousing of mentally ill people in jails and prisons, overcrowded emergency rooms, and a disturbing increase in violent crime.

While fiscally conservative lawmakers continue to count the monetary cost of adding new beds at state mental hospitals, who will be responsible for counting the enormous social costs that come with a broken system that currently tolerates far too few beds?

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