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Erlanger psychiatric hospital repeatedly diverted patients during COVID surge

Hospital CEO: 'Not enough beds'
Sun Behavioral Health hospital in Erlanger, Ky
Posted at 11:38 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 10:35:25-04

ERLANGER, KY — On Sept. 3, a 13-year-old girl was in a state of "crisis," fighting with first responders, and threatening to harm herself at a home in Independence, Kentucky.

But first responders couldn't take her to Sun Behavioral Health, the nearby psychiatric hospital in Erlanger.

Instead, they took her to St. Elizabeth Edgewood hospital.

That's because Sun was on "diversion" status, according to records provided to the WCPO 9 I-Team by the Kenton County Emergency Communications Center.

Diversion status means the hospital didn't have the capacity to provide care for more patients and couldn't admit her.

"There's not enough beds available," said Sun Behavioral Health's CEO Mederic McLaughlin. "Even if I opened up another unit, we'd still at times be at capacity."

Sun Behavioral Health CEO Mederic McLaughlin
Sun Behavioral Health CEO Mederic McLaughlin

Sun has been forced to divert some or all patients 18 days since Aug. 1.

That's roughly one out of every three days during the recent surge in COVID cases.

McLaughlin said COVID has taken a toll that's created a surge in demand for more intense mental health services, especially among teens who were forced to leave classrooms for months and may have been unable to participate in many group activities.

He said the nursing shortage has also reduced the number of beds available because hospitals can't accept patients if they don't have enough nurses to care for them.

"The problem is you can't build enough hospitals and build enough units for capacity as great as what is needed," McLaughlin said.

Emergency communications records show St. Elizabeth Edgewood hospital was on diversion status for some patients twice since Aug. 1.

St. Elizabeth did not immediately respond to the I-Team's request for comment.

Emergency communications records show during the recent COVID surge, University of Cincinnati Medical Center issued 9 notifications that it was at capacity.

Mercy West was at capacity 10 times.

The Christ Hospital, 13 times.

Some notifications covered less than an hour. Others covered a full eight-hour shift.

The Health Collaborative Public Information Officer Christa Hyson
The Health Collaborative Public Information Officer Christa Hyson

Christa Hyson with The Health Collaborative said Ohio hospitals don't use the term "diversion" in a database shared with the collaborative.

"They may just say, 'Hey, we're at capacity,' and that just tells EMS and first responders that they maybe don't go to that hospital because it's crowded," Hyson said.

The capacity at many local hospitals has increased as COVID cases drop.

But experts say COVID's impact and the need for more hospital capacity for patients is a long-term problem.

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