A viral video from Baltimore is drawing attention to a crisis that’s unfolding in emergency rooms across the country: Surging numbers of patients with psychiatric conditions aren’t receiving the care they need.
On a cold night in January, a man walking by a downtown Baltimore hospital saw something that shocked him. He started recording the incident on his phone.
Imamu Baraka’s video, which has been viewed more than 3 million times, shows security guards walking away from a bus stop next to the emergency room of University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus.
One is pushing an empty wheelchair. The woman they left there is wearing a thin yellow hospital gown and socks.
“Wait, so you’re just going to leave this lady out here with no clothes on?” Baraka asks the guards. They continue walking away.
The woman, later identified as a 22-year-old named Rebecca, staggers near the bus stop. She appears distressed and confused. She moans and shouts.
“Are you OK, ma’am? Do you need me to call the police?” Baraka asks.
Nationwide, hospitals are struggling to provide services to people with psychiatric emergencies. Between 2006 and 2013, ER visits increased by more than 50 percent for psychoses and bipolar disorders and depression, anxiety and stress reactions according to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, which compiles health care data. Between those years the number of visits climbed from 3,448 visits to 5,330 per 100,000 U.S. patients ages 15 and older.
“We’re just failing patients with mental illness and it’s just getting worse as time goes on,” says Dr. John Rogers, president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
In the viral video, Rebecca has a visible wound on her forehead, and her breath forms white clouds in the cold. Baraka calls for an ambulance, which brings her back to the hospital that just discharged her.Rebecca’s mother, Cheryl Chandler, says she happened to click on the video, not knowing it showed her daughter. “Once he focused on her face I realized it was her. And I think I went into shock initially,” Chandler says.
That realization set off a desperate search. The hospital wouldn’t tell her where she was. Chandler called the police. They found out that the hospital didn’t readmit Rebecca, even though according to a federal regulator’s report, Rebecca told workers in the ambulance, “I do not feel normal, and do not know what normal is.”– NPR