Mom: Daughter waited 10 days in ER for mental-health bed

AP News
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Posted: Sep 11, 2015 2:36 PM

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A 19-year-old New Hampshire woman experiencing a mental health crisis spent 10 days in the common area of an emergency room in Maine because no beds were available in treatment facilities, the woman's mother said Friday.

Maureen Cahill of Northwood, New Hampshire, said she desperately searched for treatment options across five states while Chyann Cahill-Hassett remained in a special wing of the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston. Her daughter was moved to the hospital's psychiatric floor Thursday after WMTW-TV reported on the family's plight, Cahill said.

Chyann Cahill-Hassett ended up in the St. Mary's emergency room after having a mental breakdown and lashing out at a treatment provider in a residential program, then running away and getting lost in the woods, her mother said.

Police used a K-9 unit to locate her, then brought her to the hospital.

The extended emergency room stay was harmful to her cognitively disabled daughter, exposing her to things she shouldn't have seen, including a drunken man whose pants kept falling down who called her "sweetheart" and tried to sit on her lap, Maureen Cahill told The Associated Press on Friday.

"We had so many gains with this wonderful young woman. What we have lost in those 10 days is substantial," Cahill said from her New Hampshire home.

St. Mary's Hospital, which declined to say if Cahill's daughter was a patient, has a special behavioral wing in its emergency room, but it isn't designed for long-term stays. While awaiting placement in an inpatient treatment program, Chyann Cahill-Hassett slept while curled up on a chair or a sofa in a common area because no beds were available, her mother said.

Maine has more than 500 beds for inpatient mental health services but many are empty at any given time because of staffing shortages. Contributing to wait lists for hospital beds are backlogs for long-term treatment for patients in their communities, leaving patients stuck in hospitals, said Jeff Austin of the Maine Hospital Association.

At St. Mary's, the behavioral emergency room was designed with a 12-hour stay in mind but there are times when patients have stayed for up to 14 days — and once up to four weeks — because of delays getting patients into appropriate programs, said Paul Rouleau, director for behavioral operations for St. Mary's Health System.

The biggest obstacles to swifter long-term treatment are a lack of inpatient psychiatric beds in Maine, along with the displacement of regular patients at the state psychiatric hospital in Augusta by those coming from the state prison system, Rouleau said.

Other factors also come into play. Infection contributed to several beds being offline Thursday, when only 19 of 24 inpatient psychiatric beds were available at St. Mary's, he added.

Cahill said she moved her daughter to Maine to place her in a residential program because similar services weren't available in New Hampshire, which has been working to improve its mental health infrastructure since settling a lawsuit with the federal government in 2013 over inadequate services.

The residential program in which her daughter was enrolled is willing to accept her back after she's stabilized, but it's unclear how long that will take, Cahill said.

"She's in a safe place. She will be getting evaluated. It's a process to see what the next step is. It's just unfortunate that you have to fight these battles," she said.

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