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Psychiatric Patients Ill-treated in Emergency Rooms, US Officials Say

iatric patients to keep on their clothes and instead be frisked and scanned with a hand-held metal detector.

Paul Dreyer, director of the state Division of Health Care Quality, said "a culture change" is needed; he is organizing an educational summit for ER staff in the fall, hoping hospitals will improve on their own, making legislation unnecessary. Legislators expect to hold hearings this summer or in the fall.

We want "people to realize they don't have to call in security the first time someone looks at them cross-eyed," Dreyer said. "The ERs are in a production mode. Their aim is to process the patients as quickly as possible to get on to the next patient. These patients may not take well to being treated that way. They may act out."

A number of hospitals said they have improved care after serious encounters.

UMass Memorial Medical Center -- where campus police beat a psychiatric patient with a baton in 2004, injuring him, and, several months later, threw a patient against a wall and called her a "bitch," according to state reports -- said it has made significant changes. These include creating a secured, quiet area for psychiatric patients and training police to use calming techniques. Dr. Patrick Smallwood, medical director for emergency mental health services, also joined the hiring panel for campus police officers last year.

Dr. Bruce Auerbach, chief for emergency and ambulatory services at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, said hospitals need more resources, not more regulation. "When a patient who is having a behavioral health crisis is in my ER for four days not getting the intervention he needs -- it's a travesty in our healthcare system," he said.


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