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Failure to care for mentally ill puts ERs at risk

11:00 AM EST, January 12, 2013

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The lack of mental health resources in the United States has contributed to a significant increase in visits to the emergency department ("How to care for mentally ill people?" Jan. 8). Psychiatric emergencies grew by 131 percent between 2000 and 2007, according to a recent study.

Psychiatric patients often "board" in the hallways of emergency department for several days, waiting for inpatient psychiatric services. This contributes to overcrowding which harms everyone.

Emergency physicians are dedicated to providing a medical home for any patient who can't access medical care including people with health insurance who are unable to get timely appointments with their primary care physicians. We also are committed to delivering the highest quality of care in the most cost-effective and efficient way for the 136 million emergency patients who visit each year.

At the same time, policymakers must increase the availability of mental health treatment in this country and protect access to emergency care which is critical at any hour of any day.

Dr. Andrew Sama, Manhasset, N.Y.

The writer is president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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