Mental hospitals lack beds, report states

Friday, March 21st 2008, 10:36 pm
By: News 9

By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

A report is drawing national attention to Oklahoma for the lack of room for the mentally ill in public hospitals. The state says it may not be completely accurate.

This report states Oklahoma has a massive shortage of public hospital beds for mentally ill patients. The state said it has solutions. One woman said it's not enough.

Janis Mercer runs Jesus House in downtown Oklahoma City. Jesus House is a place that takes in the mentally ill when public hospitals run out of room.

"We have 75 beds," Mercer said. "If I have 200, I could fill them up today."

She said the government needs to work on providing more beds for these people, something the report labels as a nationwide crisis.

"There are some people so ill; they will never be able to function on their own," Mercer said.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, in 1955 there were 340 in-patient beds for the mentally ill for every 100,000 people.

In 2005, the number of beds dropped to only 17 per 100,000. That's a 95 percent drop in beds available in public hospitals.

Oklahoma isn't alone. It's one of 11 states considered "critical" because it offers only 11 beds for every 100,000.

Oklahoma's Commissioner of Mental Health Services, Carrie Slatton-Hodges, said the report fails to consider that many patients are being treated at home and there's a push to keep the mentally ill out of large facilities like the one in Norman.

"The direction we've gone in the last 10 years is to provide smaller facilities throughout the state so individuals can receive treatment in their own hometown," Slatton-Hodges said.

But Mercer said the patients are still piling-up at Jesus House and something needs to be done soon.

"We'll have un-medicated people who are very ill who really need help, digging in garbage and living on the streets all over town," Mercer said.

Jesus House operates on donations and Janice said there may come a time when even she will run out of space and money. She's hoping for more solutions from the government before that ever happens.

The Oklahoma Commissioner on Mental Health Services said her office will continue to campaign to lawmakers for more money to help the mentally ill and hopes to one day have their medication fully funded.