As LSU Interim Hospital prepares to close a number of its psychiatric care facilities and lay off 110 employees, District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry told state and hospital officials that New Orleans already has among the fewest adult psychiatric beds per capital in the country.
LSU announced $15 million in midyear cuts to the New Orleans hospital last month. The university is expected to close nine of its 38 inpatient psychiatric beds and its full inpatient detox unit.
At a Feb. 23 meeting of the City Council's Health, Education and Social Service Committee, Guidry said the city already had only 16.9 adult beds per 100,000 population — 60 beds total — as of a March 2010 city-issued report. The report compared New Orleans to five similarly sized cities: St. Louis, Atlanta, Memphis, Tenn., Washington, D.C., and Cleveland. All of those cities, the report notes, had at least 45 adult beds per 100,000 people, except for Cleveland, which had 25.1, still more than New Orleans.
City officials, including Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo, have said that further closures would trigger a public health crisis, increase crime and result in more mentally ill patients being locked up in Orleans Parish jails, which, according to Sheriff Marlin Gusman, now have 60 full-service mental health beds already filled to capacity. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the report says, there were 214 beds (or 46 per 100,000), more than three times what the city has now.
The new LSU Hospital, not yet built, will contain 60 inpatient mental health beds — fewer than the 77 that were in the old Charity Hospital it is replacing.
Dr. Anthony Speier of the state Department of Health and Hospitals told council members the state plans to help the city alleviate the situation, in part by developing a plan to shift more of its mental health burden to outpatient facilities run by nonprofit providers.
"People in this city say we need more beds. Inpatient beds. B-E-D-S. ... That's what I want you to take to Baton Rouge," District E Councilman Jon Johnson said at the meeting. — Charles Maldonado