Mentally Ill More Prevalent in Nursing Homes

According to a new article by the Associated Press the mentally ill are becoming more prevalent in the nursing home population. Younger, stronger residents with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder are living beside frail senior citizens, and sometimes taking their rage out on them.

Numbers obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and prepared exclusively for the AP by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show nearly 125,000 young and middle-aged adults with serious mental illness (9 percent) lived in U.S. nursing homes last year. That was a 41 percent increase from 2002. Utah, Nevada, Missouri, Alabama and Texas show the steepest climbs.

The closing of state mental institutions and a shortage of hospital psychiatric beds are partly to blame. And some homes have occupancy to fill.

The AP chronicled many incidents that have been a direct result of this trend.

In 2003, a 23-year-old woman in Connecticut was charged with starting a fire that killed 16 fellow patients at her Hartford nursing home. She suffered from multiple sclerosis, dementia and depression.

In January, a 21-year-old man diagnosed with bipolar disorder with aggression was charged with raping a 69-year-old fellow patient at their nursing home near Chicago. The man was admitted to the nursing home despite a history of violence and was left unsupervised.

Under federal law, nursing homes are barred from admitting a mentally ill patient unless the state has determined that the person needs the high level of care a nursing home can provide.

Mixing the mentally ill with the elderly makes economic sense for states. As long as a nursing home’s mentally ill population stays under 50 percent, the federal government will help pay for the residents’ care under Medicaid. Sometimes the violent behaviors are a direct result of the mentally ill resident being mad because they are in a nursing home to begin with say authorities.

Nursing home operators say protections against frivolous transfer or discharge keep the homes from throwing out some mentally ill residents.

So for my readers the bottom line is simple. Insist on knowing the ratio and number of mentally ill residents that are in a facility you are considering and that are appropriate to be there because they need a higher level of medical care. Read more here.