Hello from Oregon. I’m here in Forest Grove, northwest of Portland. I’m visiting my mom, who is in the hospital. Usually, being in the hospital is not a good thing. It means something bad has happened.
In this case, being in the hospital is good. My mom is bipolar, and she is having a manic episode. She needs to be in the hospital right now; she needs care, and she needs medication to facilitate a reduction of the mania.
“Mental health care is broken in our country.” This is what Ann, one of the Emergency Department (ED) nurses at St. Vincent’s Hospital said to me at 5:15 am this past Sunday morning. We had arrived at ED at 1:30 am, and it was full of other patients, including a larger-than-usual number with some form of mental illness. St. Vincent’s psych unit was full, and other patients were already in line to get in there.
“There are no psychiatric beds available–in the whole state of Oregon.” I had just settled into the idea that I might need to schlep the 90+ miles to Corvallis or someplace else in Oregon to find a psych unit with an available bed when Ann (the nurse) said this.
Enter Jessica Starr, superhero. I love it when people have a name that describes them perfectly. Jessica is one of the social workers at St. Vincent’s Emergency Department. Thanks to Jessica’s determination, perseverance, and tenacity, my mom was transferred to a geriatric psychiatric unit at Tuality Forest Grove Hospital (less than 10 miles from my mom’s apartment). A hospital-to-hospital transfer is a big deal because of the legal and financial issues involved.
I overheard a little of what Jessica had to do to find a place for my mom. She had to persuade the physician that my mom was “that bad.” She had to emphasize the many hospitalizations over the past 15 years. She had to confirm that the payor source (in this case, Medicare parts A, B and D) was in place and would cover the stay.
Jessica waded through several phone calls to make the right thing happen. I happened to be standing near the nurse’s station when Jessica got the final okay for the transfer. She hung up the phone, heaved a smiling sigh of relief, then held up her hand to me for a big ole high five.
When we got to Tuality Forest Grove, one of the employees told me that there are only 14 geriatric psychiatric units left in the entire United States. I felt like we’d won the lottery.
Jessica, you rock.