NEW YORK NURSE: November/December 2011
by Mark Genovese
A cooperative management/labor initiative to improve safety in the behavioral health and emergency psychiatric units at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) was announced at a joint news conference on Sept. 20.
Participants said that overcrowding in local emergency psychiatric units, a lack of beds in acute-care facilities, and insufficient housing for patients in need of supervision or assistance are causing a crisis in the delivery of mental health care. These conditions have increasingly been leading to violence. The most recent incident of violence occurred on Sept. 6, when a registered nurse at ECMC suffered serious injury after being attacked by a patient. It was the fourth serious attack on a registered nurse at ECMC by a patient in less than a year.
“These tragic events make it clear that more attention must be paid to the process of providing behavioral health care,” said Dennis Lindell, LBU chair. “Emergency psychiatric services must be better structured, coordinated, and supported – not only at ECMC, but at healthcare facilities throughout the state.”
NYSNA has been meeting with nurses and the hospital administration over the past year, and continues to meet, to discuss necessary measures such as changes in the units’ physical design, dedicated response teams, and specialized training – modifications the nurses have been seeking for years.
Participants called on elected public officials to provide not only financial support but to expedite state approval for requests for additional healthcare resources. They also pointed out the need to take a comprehensive look at the resources available in our communities and make better use of them. Additionally, participants said ongoing conversations need to include law enforcement, individual physicians, crisis services, and family counselors because each party plays an important role in providing effective and safe behavioral health care.
“It just doesn’t make sense for one facility to eliminate beds while another nearby has patients waiting for placement,” Lindell said. “This is why we have overcrowding and why, in turn, tensions rise to the level of violence.”