Government

Iowa's mental health bed-tracking database 'not useful' so far, hospitals say

More frequent updates from psychiatric hospitals needed

Winneshiek Medical Center ER nursing supervisor John Kelly of Decorah shows a ER room to members of the media where mental health patients could wait while they look for a psychiatric bed nearby which can take many hours in Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)
Winneshiek Medical Center ER nursing supervisor John Kelly of Decorah shows a ER room to members of the media where mental health patients could wait while they look for a psychiatric bed nearby which can take many hours in Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)

Officials from several Eastern Iowa hospitals say a new state database for locating mental health beds isn’t being updated by psychiatric hospitals.

The CareMatch database introduced last month at a cost of nearly $150,000 is intended to allow Iowa’s 29 hospitals that provide inpatient mental health services to post real-time bed availability so rural hospitals can find placement for patients having mental health emergencies.

While nearly all inpatient psychiatric programs have logged into the system, most aren’t regularly updating their bed availability, said administrators at three rural hospitals that rely on the data.

“The problem is, it’s not readily updated, so we don’t know if the information is completely accurate,” said Danae Tjeerdsma, emergency department nurse manager at the Waverly Health Center.

The bed-tracking system was developed to prevent rural hospitals from having to call larger hospitals around the state to try to find available psychiatric beds.

The Gazette reported in February about a Decorah mom who spent nine hours in the ER with her son, whose mental illness made him want to harm himself. Sheriff’s deputies often drive patients up to six hours to find an available bed.

The Iowa Department of Human Services signed a contract for up to $270,000 with Five Points Technology Group, of Florida, to develop the database.

John Kelly, ER nursing supervisor at the Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah, said he hasn’t trained his staff on the CareMatch program yet because the information is out of date. The software does not show when psychiatric hospitals enter the bed availability, so smaller hospitals can’t tell if the numbers are accurate until they call the hospital, supervisors said.

“It looks like they have four beds available, so you call and they say ‘we’ve been full for two days’,” Kelly said. “As it is today, it’s not useful.”

DHS Director Charles Palmer bragged about the database to the Iowa Council on Human Services last month. Palmer said he thought the 700 beds in 27 hospitals and two Mental Health Institutions seem like enough to meet the state’s needs.

Natalie Shea, emergency service manager at Central Community Hospital in Elkader, disagrees.

“The real issue of bed availability has not been solved by the new ‘mega-dollar’ system,” Shea wrote in an email to The Gazette. “The timely care of the patient by trained staff and facility is so key to the success of treatment for these patients and we have not solved that issue at all. We need more access closer to the patient’s home.”

Forty-six Iowa counties have no hospitals with psychiatric placements or residential crisis centers, DHS reported.

DHS officials are making their own calls to Iowa hospitals to see how the program is working.

“We’re hearing that this online tool allows care providers across the state to access information regarding available inpatient psychiatric beds and more quickly locate services in the instances that hospital psychiatric treatment is needed,” DHS Spokeswoman Amy McCoy said.

Eastern Iowa ER supervisors said they hope CareMatch can tweak the program and get psychiatric hospitals to update bed availability more frequently. “It has huge potential and could save us a great deal of time,” Tjeerdsma said.

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