Shortage of Psychiatric Beds a Statewide & Nationwide Issue - FOX 21/27 WFXR Roanoke/WWCW Lynchburg News, Weather

Shortage of Psychiatric Beds a Statewide & Nationwide Issue

Posted: Updated:

June Poe is a mental health advocate who has watched a loved one suffer from mental illness for years. She says the shortage of psychiatric beds in the area has been a chronic problem.

"The beds in Virginia have been cut and cut, but it's more than a Virginia problem," Poe says. "This happens throughout the whole United States."

The Treatment Advocacy Center shows the steep decline in available beds. In 1995, about 560,000 beds were available for mental health patients. Ten years later, that number dropped by almost 500,000. In 2010, the numbers continued to drop to about 43,000 available beds.

The Virginia's Inspector General 2011 report also shows 200 people who were deemed an ‘imminent danger to themselves and others' were turned away because of a lack of bed space.

Support Systems Roanoke's director, Tracie Cookston, says she's seen the issues first-hand.

"We've had the hospital drop clients off in a taxi cab with no shirt on at 5 p.m. on a Friday because they had nowhere for the person to be," Cookston says.

Cookston says there can be major consequences if people can't get adequate care. She says it weighs law enforcement down, fills up jails and prisons, increases the homeless population, and can make the emergency room often the only option.

"There are not enough beds to accommodate the system that's in place to help people who have mental health issues," Cookston says. "It's broken and it really needs to get fixed."