EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIALTY
The state of hospital psychiatry has changed greatly in the past 40 or 50 years. The introduction of the antipsychotics solely for schizophrenia means we can now treat those previously thought untreatable. With the discovery and application of other treatments for mental illness, a movement developed to end the institutionalization of the mentally ill and integrate them back into the community. Other societal forces include the patient rights movement that has led to changes in the law and a needed focus on the rights of the mentally ill—both for minimums of treatment provided and protection against unnecessary hospitalization. State and federal budgetary and managed care pressures have also contributed to the remarkable changes in hospital psychiatry.
This combination of changes from medical, legal, societal, and fiscal forces has slashed the number of available inpatient beds and lengths of stays. In 1970 there were 413,066 state and county psychiatric inpatient beds in the United States.1 By 2000 that number had decreased to 59,403. There has been a moderate increase in private and community psychiatric beds in response. However, even considering this increase, the total number of beds in 1970 was
524,878 and the total in 2000 was 215,221. There have been continued reductions in beds since then nationally. Along with this decrease in psychiatric beds has come a dramatic shift in average length of stay as well. The general average length of stay in the United States is less than one week for psychiatric hospitalization.
The hope with decreasing the number of beds has been that a focus on community-based treatment and programs to support those with severe mental illness would be available to meet the needs of the severely mentally ill. Unfortunately, though the intent and goals were laudable, those programs have not developed as hoped. Current challenges for the seriously mentally ill include lack of parity for mental illness for insurance, continued pressure on private psychiatric beds to fill in the gaps of services not met by the community along with continued cuts in state and federal funding for inpatient psychiatric care.
This decrease in beds combined with decreased average length of stay and an increase in population has led to more and more pressure on the limited psychiatric beds available. It’s not uncommon now for patients to remain in the emergency department for 24 hours or longer waiting for a psychiatric bed. Along with these pressures has come decreased availability of inpatient substance abuse treatment, the ubiquitous comorbidity. Managed care review of inpatient stays on an almost daily basis, and the ever-increasing demands of documentation to meet regulatory requirements have also increased pressures on hospital psychiatry.
TYPES OF PSYCH HOSPITALIST PROGRAMS
As a result of the trends mentioned above, a variety of psychiatric hospitalist practice settings now exist. They include private and community psychiatric hospitals, academic center hospitals, state hospitals, Veterans Affairs and military hospitals, and—the most rapidly growing sector—correctional psychiatry in state and federal prison systems.
Correctional settings, such as jails and prisons, have been estimated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics to have a prevalence of inmates with mental illness between 7% and 16%.2 The rate of mental illness in inmates is approximately two to three times that of the general population for major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. The mentally ill in prison are more likely to be homeless, medically ill, and chemically dependent than the general population, as well.