Mental health issues are a leading cause for hospital admissions among Pennsylvania’s “super utilizers,” those patients who are hospitalized five or more times in a year.
Along with heart failure and septicemia, a life-threatening infection, mental illness is among the top three reasons for frequent hospitalizations.
“This is not the patients’ fault,” said Joe Martin, executive director of the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, which analyzed the data. The report is aimed at finding better ways to serve patients and avoid hospitalizations when possible, he said.
One of the trouble spots is an information disconnect between providers. Over the course of a year, Martin said, patients with mental illnesses are often treated in different hospitals, which is inefficient, “Often the system is not doing a good job of keeping track of them, knowing what medications they are on, and so on,” he said.
Mark Salzer, a professor of rehabilitation sciences at Temple University, explained that discharge can also be complicated and drive up costs.
“You typically don’t get discharged to the street,” he said. “You get discharged to a residential program, a bed, if you can’t go back to where you came from. And that can also drive up the length of stay for someone.”
Frequent hospitalizations can be prevented when people are connected to treatment resources in the community — especially after they are first discharged from the hospital, Salzer said. But that is not always happening.
“They don’t take their meds; they’re not getting supports they need; they are not connecting back with their support management team,” he said. “That leads to problems.”
In the 12-month time period studied, Medicare and Medicaid paid $761 million for hospital stays for just 21,000 Pennsylvania “super utilizers.”