Psychiatric Discharges in Community Hospitals With and Without Psychiatric Units: How Many and for Whom?

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ObjectiveThis study sought to describe the extent to which community hospitals, in a sample of states, are caring for patients with psychiatric disorders in medical-surgical beds (scatter beds) and to compare the characteristics of patients treated in scatter beds with those of patients treated in psychiatric units in community hospitals.MethodsInformation on hospital discharges in 12 states for patients with a principal psychiatric diagnosis was gathered from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Databases. Discharges of patients who were treated in community hospital psychiatric units (N=370,984) were compared with those of patients who were treated in scatter beds (N=26,969).ResultsOverall, only 6.8% of discharges were from scatter beds. The rate of total psychiatric discharges per 10,000 total state population ranged from a high of 62.3 in one study state to a low of 9.6 in another. The average rate of scatter bed discharges per 10,000 state population ranged from 1.6 to 5.8, whereas the average rate of psychiatric unit discharges ranged from 7.4 to 58.9. A comparison of discharges of patients treated in scatter beds with discharges of patients treated in psychiatric units indicated that patients in scatter beds were more likely to have somatic conditions and were half as likely to have an accompanying substance use disorder. Discharge codes indicated that almost 40% of patients from scatter beds had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, episodic mood disorder, or depression; about two-thirds were admitted from emergency rooms; and about one-fifth were transferred to another facility.ConclusionsMore research is needed to determine the optimal supply of psychiatric unit beds across regions and whether and how scatter beds should be used to address the lack of psychiatric beds.

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