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Kings County Death: NAMI Calls for Criminal Probe;
Survey Shows Psychiatric Emergency Room Delays are National Problem

July 3, 2008

Washington, D.C.— Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illnesses, has issued this statement:

"NAMI continues to monitor the callous treatment and tragic death of Ms. Esmin Elizabeth Green while waiting for admission to the psychiatric ward at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn,  N.Y.

It is a sad commentary that it took a tragedy of this nature to move New York City's Health and Hospital’s Corporation to immediately settle a lawsuit that was filed a year ago to improve conditions at the hospital.

Legal action should not stop there.

Criminal responsibility should be investigated.

Both state and federal authorities should take a close look not only at the circumstances of Ms. Green’s death, but also systemic issues involving the hospital and potentially other parts of the city’s mental healthcare system. That includes staffing levels, training, and availability of hospital beds.

The Kings County tragedy is not an isolated incident. Other tragedies are waiting to happen in emergency rooms across the United States.

In 2008, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) released a survey that indicates emergency psychiatric care is "extremely limited" and "getting worse." 

  • Over 60 percent of psychiatric patients needing admission to a hospital have to stay in the emergency department over 4 hours after a decision to admit them has been made.
  • 33 percent wait over 8 hours; 6 percent over 24 hours.
  • 62 percent of emergency department medical directors indicated there are no psychiatric services for patient care while patients are boarded prior to admission or transfer. 
  • 89 percent transfer psychiatric patients every week to other facilities due to unavailable psychiatric beds at their hospitals.

In 2003, New York was forced to confront a scandal involving adult homes for people living with mental illness. In other states, the U.S. Department of Justice has been forced to launch investigations.

Nationwide, we face a mental healthcare system in crisis—which on average gets no better than a "D" grade. It is time for investment and transformation of the mental healthcare system at all levels."

ACEP Survey

NAMI Grading the States report

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