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Report: Timely discharge would free mental health beds, money in Va.

Wednesday - 2/19/2014, 5:26am  ET

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of Sen. Creigh Deeds' stabbing by his son, Virginia's inspector general has one way to free some mental health beds that state legislators say are so in need.

Citing state data, a report from the state inspector general shows that as of July 1, 2012, more than 160 people in state mental hospitals were there for more than 30 days after doctors indicated they were ready for discharge into community care. Those patients were taking up about 13 percent of all state-operated mental health beds.

Each of those patients was in a state-operated hospital an average of 296 days after being declared ready for discharge, costing taxpayers an average $27 million a day. The report says if each was treated in the community instead, the cost to taxpayers would be just 12 percent of that total.

The Office of the State Inspector General's review focused on the Discharge Assistance Program, which provides tailored funding to help patients return to the community while other coverage for support and care, such as Medicare coverage, is finalized.

The report says that if more discharge-ready patients were released into community care, more beds in state hospitals would be available for emergency mental-health patients.

"In general, what we can think of it as is finding capacity, finding hospital beds that currently are offline - they're not available. So in a sense, it is an issue of the system kind of being clogged up," NAMI of Virginia Executive Director Mira Signer says.

NAMI advocates for mental health care.

She says housing is one thing NAMI supports that has a long-standing impact.

"Specifically, permanent supportive housing, which is a proven model that supports people with serious mental illnesses in the community," says Signer.

"Virginia has very little in the way of permanent supportive housing, and so what we're seeing is that the state hospitals are essentially housing people for the long term. That's not good for the person. That's not good for the system, because it puts a backlog on the available bed space."

Signer would like to see Virginia invest in "housing, case management and other evidence-based programs."

While similar housing projects have at times drawn opposition from neighbors, Signer emphasizes that people with mental illnesses are a big part of society.

"They're our neighbors. They're our friends. These are not people who should be hidden away in the shadows. Mental illness can be treated very well with medication and treatments and supports and intensive services."

Click here to read the full report.

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