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Columbus Counts Fewest Beds For Mentally Ill Among Major Ohio Cities.

Oftentimes, when someone suffers from serious mental illness in Franklin County, they're forced to wait for access to an in-patient hospital bed. Numbers cited by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Board in Frankllin County show Columbus trails both Cincinnati and Cleveland in the number of beds available for mental patients.

The head of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board in Franklin County, David Royer, says the shortage of in-patient care for the mentally ill is getting worse.

"What we've seen is in the last four or five months that we're seeing more first time people being hospitalized than we have in the past. Its not always just the re-occurring people being re-hospitalized. " Says Royer Royer adds that so-called parity laws, which call for equal treatement for both mental and physical illnesses have put pressure on hospitals to add beds and that's put Franklin County behind other major Ohio cities in critical care access for the mentally ill.

"If you look at the statistics, its estimated that both Cleveland and Cincinnati average about 30 in-patient beds per hundred-thousand people. I think Central Ohio, Franklin County area is down to about eleven." Says Royer.

With so few beds and increasing demand another public agency is often forced to pick up the slack. At the county jail, Deputy Chief Mark Baird says everyday, inmates with symptoms of mental illness are booked into the jail

"The jails have become de facto mental health institutions. So yes it is a problem not only with us but with other jurisdictions." Says Baird.

Baird estimates about 6% to 7% of the jail population is being treated or medicated for mental illness. And, Baird says it also costs taxpayers more to house some mentally ill patients, those who need prescriptions for psychotropic medications. Most often, inmates are behind bars for short periods of time. But, Baird says its not surprising to see them return.

"Unfortunately, sometimes alot of these people aren't linked to somebody in the community. We then provide them with medication to maintain some stability for a certain period of time once they leave the jail and then unfortunately most of them go back out and de-compensate. They become what we call frequent flyers. They come back into the jail for some minor violation." Says Baird. Back at ADAM-H, Royer says parity laws have put pressure on the private hospitals. But, Royer says so few beds for the mentally ill forces some to wait for care.

"Essentially what happens is, is that there's a stacking effect. If the beds aren't available, Netcare begins to have more people sitting there waiting to be hospitalized. From the community perspective, the question of increasing in-patient capacity really falls on the decision makers at either the private hospitals or the Ohio Department of Mental Health."

Royer says, for its part, ADAM-H works to assure there are community supports to help the mentally ill when they're discharged from the hospital.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News