New Tracking System Reduces Hospital Wait Times in Iowa

The new database would provide real-time online information of inpatient psychiatric beds available in Iowa and in border states contracted to serve Iowa patients.

by Erin Jordan, The Gazette / June 3, 2015

(TNS) -- The Iowa Department of Human Services is finalizing a contract for up to $270,000 with a Florida company to develop a database for tracking mental health beds to reduce the time patients wait in hospital emergency rooms.

The decision comes four months after a Gazette story profiling a Decorah mother who waited nine hours in an ER with her 7-year-old son, whose mental illness makes him want to harm himself, only to be told there were no beds available in Iowa. Families have also decried the December closure of two of the state’s four mental health institutes, saying there will be fewer inpatient beds for mental health emergencies.

The new database — expected to be rolled out this month — would provide real-time online information of inpatient psychiatric beds available in Iowa and in border states contracted to serve Iowa patients. Hospitals would enter specific information about available psychiatric beds, including whether they are open to men, women or children, accept patients with substance abuse issues and accept patients with a history of violence.

Hospitals looking for beds would be able to reserve one through the database.

Right now, hospital staff often call as many as 31 hospitals to see which beds are available. Once a bed is located — which can take from hours to days — a sheriff’s deputy, in many cases, will drive the patient up to six hours for treatment.

“It would be great if you could look at a real-time database,” Winneshiek County Sheriff Dan Marx said this week. “We had a recent case, calling all over, sitting there eight to 10 hours and couldn’t find a bed.”

A new law allowing mental health regions to contract with hospitals in bordering states for substance abuse or mental health beds also should help the situation, Marx said. He would still like to see more regional beds and closed-circuit court hearings so patients don’t have to be driven back and forth.

Human Services is finalizing a contract with Five Points Technology Group, a software and consulting company based in Bradenton, Florida, to develop the bed-tracking system, Spokeswoman Amy McCoy said. Five Points has done similar projects in other states and created the system used for matching Iowa foster parents and children.

The April 6 Request for Proposals for the mental health bed-matching system says the deal would last 13 months, with the option of four annual extensions.

©2015 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.