'Inhumane treatment' of behavioral health patients at Alaska hospital

Bartlett Regional Hospital, based in Juneau, Alaska, has been facing a staffing shortage that is resulting in "inhumane treatment" of behavioral health patients, according to a July 31 report from Juneau Empire.

The inadequate staffing level has left the hospital ill equipped to handle patients' violent outbursts and other problems, putting patients and staff "in harm's way," a physician and board member at the hospital told Juneau Empire.

Behavioral health patients have arrived at the hospital, and there are no qualified psychiatric staff present to provide care. As a result, these patients are left in the emergency room or general medical care area, posing the risk of hurting themselves, other patients or employees. The hospital has resorted to placing patients in small evaluation rooms with a mattress lining the floor.

The staffing crisis was a result of unmet demands, unfavorable contracts and "threats of retaliation" from management, Lindy Jones, MD, a physician at the hospital for 30 years, told Juneau Empire. Additionally, Barlett's policies regarding contract physicians has made it difficult to bring locum psychiatrists on board.

Dr. Jones wrote and presented a letter to the hospital's board, describing the high rate of crisis-level problems as "inadequate and inhumane treatment," according to the report.

"It's not something I can fix," David Keith, CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital, said in the report. "The lack of psychiatrists, the lack of personnel, the lack of training institutions, the lack of availability, the lack of telemedicine and the lack of many, many things, makes this a huge challenge."

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