EXCLUVE: Smith County task force to find solution for "psychiatric crisis"

EXCLUVE: Smith County task force to find solution for "psychiatric crisis"

SMITH COUNTY (KYTX) -  Medical professionals and law enforcement agencies are taking a stand against a state and even nationwide mental health crisis. It's something we're experiencing right here in East Texas.

In an exclusive story, CBS 19 investigates a disturbing fact: there are not enough beds in psychiatric facilities across Texas to serve all of our mental health patients, and those patients end up taking hospital beds needed for general medical emergencies.  

Mental health patients can go to several psychiatric hospitals: ETMC Behavioral Health, Rusk State Hospital and Terrell State Hospital are common for East Texans.  Terrell just took away the 18 beds Smith County patients typically use, so to offset the loss, UT Health Northeast in Tyler is getting 14 new psychiatric beds by the end of the summer.  
It's great that there will be more local beds, but there's still a net loss of 4 beds. That means the problem is getting worse, not better.  

Every day, multiple mental health patients end up in local emergency rooms. They either walk in on their own, or are brought in by law enforcement or ambulance. 

Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith says he serves several warrants a day to get mentally ill patients off the streets and into hospitals.  

Once those mental health patients get to the ER, they have to get medical clearance to go to a psychiatric facility.
The people who do those medical psychiatric screenings are from the Andrews Center, a mental health organization in Tyler.  
"They call our 800 number and then our crisis screener comes out, makes an assessment, makes an appropriate referral. Sometimes it's to a psychiatric facility," says Andrews Center Division Director Valerie Holcomb.

Holcomb says many of the state's psychiatric facilities are full, so many times there's nowhere for the patients to go.  She says she runs into this problem almost daily. 

There are only 2,500 psychiatric beds in the state of Texas.  

"In the last six months the Sheriff's department has taken folks to Harlingen, El Paso, Austin state hospital," Holcomb says.

There's a state hospital in Rusk, but it's on divert status, meaning it's full and there's no room for new patients. 
The full beds create a domino effect of other issues: Not only are law enforcement officers forced to leave Smith County streets to transport mental patients all over the state, but until a bed is found for them, these patients are sitting waiting, in our local hospital ER rooms, which Holcomb has learned, are already full too.  

"That is concerning because we just learned from several directors at local hospitals that they're putting folks on diversion. Somebody with a heart attack would have to go to Dallas or Texarkana or something for care and those precious minutes you can't get back," Holcomb says.
"If you need a trauma bed, or an ER bed, it's being taken up by someone unnecessarily," Sheriff Smith says.

To find a solution and fast, the Andrews Center, local hospitals, local law enforcement, and state politicians have created a mental health task force.  They say the answer lies in federal and state funding, which has in the recent past been decreased.
Holcomb says another issue is that some of those psychiatric patients show up at emergency rooms without any immediate medical issues. That means the people at our local hospitals can't really do anything for them, but under law they can't release them.
The Andrews Center is asking the public to first call their crisis number if you need help. Only show up to the ER if it is a medical emergency.  

The people on the other end of that crisis line will work to get you the right form of help. For that number, and more information on mental health help,
click here.



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