There used to be a courtyard adjacent to the admitting area of Providence’s Butler Hospital, where patients could have a smoke while they waited to be seen. Now that space has a roof overhead, the only sign it ever saw sunlight two tiles in the ceiling decorated to look like blue sky with white clouds.
The old courtyard now serves as an additional waiting room – it is currently the only way the nonprofit hospital can separate its patients while they wait. Otherwise, old and young, acutely ill or stable, wait together in the same room. On a good day, the wait is three hours; on a busy day, five.
The wait is so long because 40 or more patients come in every day. Butler has been consistently overcapacity in the past few years. In 2009, the hospital was granted a variance from the Department of Health to fill an additional 20 beds over its 117 licensed-bed capacity.
But this month, Butler opens an expanded patient-care center in the new $16 million Riverview Building that will enable the hospital to treat the increasing number of patients needing psychiatric and substance-abuse services. A new intensive-treatment unit, which opened Oct. 1, will be able to treat 26 more patients, growing the hospital’s capacity to 143 beds.
The new patient rooms offer more privacy than those on the general unit. In addition, the space includes soothing, low-stimulation areas where patients who may be highly agitated can find quiet, listen to music or even exercise, said Dr. Martin Furman, the unit’s chief.
The expanded services are expected to alleviate some of the pressure on other hospitals whose waiting rooms are often backed up with patients seeking behavioral-health treatment. Dr. Brian Zink, chief of emergency medicine at The Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital, which sees 15-18 patients seeking behavioral health services each day, said there currently aren’t enough state beds for the uninsured or Medicaid patients.
In the coming year, Rhode Island Hospital will also be expanding its number of psychiatric beds to meet increasing demands, he said.
But why is there an increasing demand for inpatient mental-health services in the first place? It depends on whom you ask.
Rhode Island has the highest incidence of mental illness in the country – with one in every four adults experiencing some type of mental illness compared to the national average of one in five adults, said Craig Stenning, director of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. The state’s utilization rate, or the per capita rate for receiving services, is also slightly higher than the country’s average, he said.