State lawmakers have made strides in providing treatment for Nevada's mentally ill population, but a crisis continues in Las Vegas area emergency rooms which demands immediate attention, doctors say.
"The system is still broken and we are in crisis," Dr. Dale Carrison, the emergency room director for University Medical Center, told the state Mental Health Plan Implementation Commission.
There were 36 mentally ill patients taking up beds in emergency rooms in southern Nevada on Thursday, Carrison said, adding that he's encouraged about long-term solutions "but in talking about the short-term solution, we're still in crisis."
Carrison praised the Legislature for funding a 150-bed, $32 million psychiatric hospital in Clark County sought by Gov. Kenny Guinn, but noted that facility is several years away from reality and help is needed now.
Besides the psychiatric hospital, Guinn and lawmakers provided nearly $1 million for an eight-member team of specialists to deal with mentally ill homeless people.
Carrison said jail inmates who have mental problems and get medications while incarcerated are released every day - but without medication. He added it takes them a minimum of two weeks to get help in the community.
Dr. Gary Goldberg, the associate medical director for Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, echoed Carrison's concerns at the commission meeting Thursday.
"Every hospital is affected by this problem," he said. "This is a problem that really has to be dealt with now."
Dr. Rick Henderson, with St. Rose Dominican Hospital in Henderson, also expressed concern about holding mentally ill patients in emergency rooms while awaiting room in an appropriate mental health facility.
The problem also affects ambulances when they can't unload a patient because the emergency room is full, he said.
"So it's an issue that is not fair to mental health patients and an issue that has implications for all the regular folks walking around on the street," Henderson said.
The Legislature established the mental health commission to determine how Nevada will implement the recommendations of a presidential commission seeking to help people with mental illness.