How the Psychiatrist Shortage Is Affecting Emergency Room Coverage

Why the ER is being affected.

Psychiatrist Emergency Room

In 1850, America was in a movement to provide more humane care of mentally ill patients by treating them in hospitals. At that time, there were about 14 beds per 100,000 population.

In 2010, the supply was 14.1 beds per 100,000 population. We are in a crisis of 19th century levels.

Nationwide, we are seeing a decrease in the number of available psychiatry inpatient beds, and it’s leaving emergency departments with the task of caring for patients while they wait for a bed to open up.

The emergency department has become a dumping ground for patients who have been abandoned by every other part of the healthcare system,” said Dr. Rebecca Parker of the American College of Emergency Medicine (ACEP).

A survey conducted in 2016 by the American College of Emergency Physicians noted that 2.2 million patients experiencing mental health issues visit emergency rooms each year, where they often realize they have nowhere to go and no treatment available.

Nearly half of emergency medicine physicians in an ACEP survey said they have a least one psychiatric patient per day held in their emergency department waiting for a bed. But less than 17 percent said they have a psychiatrist on-call to respond to emergencies.

There’s a growing awareness of mental illness driving patients to seek care. The Affordable Care Act ruled mental health and substance abuse treatment were essential benefits under ACA plans.

Patients with mental health conditions are more likely to seek treatment in the ER than physically ill patients, according the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. These patients also tended to spend more time in the ER than those with physical symptoms.

The ER must pick up the slack from gaps left in America’s mental health care system. More than 123 million Americans live in Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA), which are designated areas where there is an insufficient number of providers to serve the local population.

That leaves the ER as the only option for psychiatric patients or addiction patients when local treatment centers are full or non-existent and our nation’s opioid crisis is only compounding the problem. How can hospitals help overdose patients from returning to the ER? Some experts are calling for mental health services for these patients in the ER itself.

Affecting the rest of your organization.

Psychiatric patients remaining in the ER as they wait for an inpatient bed remain there more than three times longer than non-psychiatric patients, which costs hospitals about $100 an hour in revenue, according to a 2012 study in Emergency Medicine International. These researchers also noted that when ED beds were tied up and non-psychiatric patients had to wait for treatment, it’s more likely the hospital had declines in patient satisfaction and public reputation.

Having an available psychiatrist on-call – whether through telehealth, locum tenens or a permanent hire – can help your organization mitigate these effects and provide high-quality care to your community.

See more stats regarding mental health patients in the ER.

Infographic showing the psych ER strain

Connect With Us

Federal facts for you.

We are a Federal Supply Schedule Contract holder. 

Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) Contract: 36F79723D0086, Professional and Allied Healthcare Staffing, effective March 15, 2023, through March 14, 2028.

NAICS Codes:
  • 561320: Temporary help services. 
  • 621111: Offices of physicians. 
  • 621112: Offices of physicians, mental health specialists. 
  • 621399: Offices of all other miscellaneous health practitioners. 
  • 621330: Offices of mental health practitioners.


Once you and our client agree to move forward with your assignment, our privileging team will assist you and the client in gathering information required by the healthcare facility to grant clinical privileges.


We contact the facility’s Medical Service Office (MSO) for their application and requirements.


We will assist you by pre-populating the facility’s application and sending to the MSO.


We will assist the MSO by following up on requested items.


MSO will grant privileges based on your training and experience, and you will be able to start your assignment.

Headshot of Maggie Youmans

Maggie Youmans

Senior Vice President, Sales

As Senior Vice President, Maggie oversees several key specialty divisions and adjacent teams. With a demonstrated history of leading teams and developing individuals across the organization, she is dedicated to inspiring, challenging and empowering associates to achieve their personal and professional goals. 

Maggie earned degrees in marketing and management focused on consumer economics from the University of Georgia, Terry College of Business. She enjoys traveling with her husband to visit different bed and breakfasts. Together, they have been able to see the beauty within their own backyard and across the country.

Connect with Maggie on LinkedIn.

Headshot of Anne Anderson

Anne Anderson

Executive Vice President

"I'm passionate about the locum tenens industry - we make a real difference in the lives of both our heroic healthcare providers and the patients they treat."

Anne has been at the forefront of the evolution of locum tenens for more than 35 years. She’s a respected leader with expertise in corporate operations, risk management, credentialing, and travel services. Before joining Jackson + Coker, she served as Executive Vice President at Medical Doctor Associates, part of Cross Country Healthcare. 

An ardent industry advocate, Anne served several years on the Board of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO), including two years as president. 

Anne received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Spring Hill College. She is also a PADI open water diver and enjoys scuba diving. 

Connect with Anne on LinkedIn.