In an effort to address a growing need for mental health and addiction care, a bill was introduced on Monday in the state Assembly to develop a minimum staffing requirement for behavioral health emergencies in California hospitals.
Introduced by Assemblymember Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 1001 would reportedly ensure there is enough qualified staff available in all units of a hospital to promptly assist those experiencing mental health and addiction crises.
The bill would require hospitals to have the following immediately available for hospital patients outside of psychiatric units: at least two psychiatric registered nurses and one trained staff member, as well as a staff member capable of caring for a patient's psychosocial needs.
The California Department of Health Care Access and Information cited that in 2020, people with behavioral health diagnoses made up one-third of all inpatient hospital admissions.
But despite the need, there is currently no mandate on the amount of behavioral health staff members available to care for these patients, which has often resulted in long wait times.
Members of the California Nurses Association, a union comprised of over 100,000 nurses in the state, said that California hospitals are increasingly unprepared and lack specialized nurses to respond to the growing number of patients with behavioral health care needs.
"For patients who are suffering from an emergency, it could be a matter of life or death," said Yvette Bassett, a registered nurse in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital. "Having an appropriately skilled behavioral health team would not only save the life of our patients, but also provide the necessary support for staff and nurses to appropriately care for the patient."
On Monday, union members and Haney gathered outside San Francisco's St. Mary's Medical Center to stress the need for appropriate staffing in hospitals.
"It is very difficult to see a patient suffering from a behavioral health emergency and not have trained professionals available to treat them," said Amy Preble, an ICU nurse at St. Mary's Medical Center. "The lack of expertise and resources not only hurts our patients, but puts nurses and other staff at risk for violence. We know when nurses aren't safe, none of our patients are safe. Passage of this bill would indicate our respect for those who are suffering from behavioral health crises, all of our patients, and signal that nurses deserve protection at work."
Haney said that not only does understaffing prevent patients from receiving the care they deserve, but also exacerbates already overworked hospital workers. The inability to care for patients is partially the reason why the state's licensed nurse population are leaving the profession, he said.
"Instead of treating people with mental health and addiction issues, we're pushing them back onto the street," said Haney, who also serves as chair of the Select Committee on Fentanyl, Opioid Addiction and Overdose Prevention.
His office reports that out of the 500,000 licensed nurses in California, 348,000 are currently working in hospitals.
Haney added that the bill would fund a mental health and addiction staff training program with preexisting behavior health care funds, so workers can learn how to de-escalate crises and better care for patients.
"If we don't invest in this workforce, we'll continue to see more nurses leaving the field and fewer patients getting the help they desperately need."
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