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1 in 5 days mental health patients spend in hospitals could be avoidable

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A first-of-its-kind study shows nearly one in five days mental health patients spend in the hospital are "potentially avoidable," the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) said in a release.

"Potentially avoidable days" are defined by the organization as days that mental health patients spend in the hospital when they could have been treated more appropriately elsewhere.

The study looked at 20 hospitals and health systems, including Hennepin County Medical Center, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the Mayo Clinic, between March 15 and April 30 of this year.

Of the 32,520 total mental health bed days in the 20 hospitals, just under 20 percent (or 6,052 days) were considered potentially avoidable.

This would be 48,000 potentially avoidable days in a year if extrapolated to Minnesota's 147 hospitals. The study noted that similar research, involving all hospitals and services in the state, could provide a statewide picture to enhance their understanding.

“Mental illnesses affect us all. Behind these numbers are patients and families who are not getting the care they need in the right place at the right time,” Dr. Rahul Koranne, MHA’s chief medical officer said in the statement. “On any given day, 134 patients across these 20 hospitals could have been more appropriately served in a different care setting."

Koranne added bottlenecks that exist in the mental health care system leave patients in hospital beds that could be available to others.

Of the 26 specific reasons why delays occurred (the full study is available here), 64 percent were due to the lack of space in state-run health hospitals, treatment centers and other similar places.

While 30 percent occurred due to delays in social service or government agency care, like identifying an appropriate new location for a patient or resolving patient legal proceedings.

The takeaway was that the future challenge for the MHA and other entities is to determine if resources exist to address the causes of delays.

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