Arielle Levin Becker

Having spent an evening in the emergency room, a few issues and questions have come into focus.

Why are there so many patients in the halls of emergency rooms?

There are roughly 30 million Americans of all ages without health insurance in the United States. That is roughly 9.2% of the U.S. population.

That percentage translates in New Haven where there is a population of 135,081, to about 12,157 people living without health insurance.

That also means that when any of this population gets sick, it is possible that they will use the emergency room of Yale New Haven Hospital as their primary care facility.

In Hartford the population is 120,576, and 9 percent of that is 10,852 people without health insurance, and in Waterbury, with its population of 113,811, there  will be a population of about 10,243 without health insurance.

The uninsured population in all our cities are using the hospital  emergency rooms as their primary health care facilities, causing serious back-ups for the emergency room nurses and doctors. This leaves those who are using hospital emergency rooms for a major medical emergency less likely to get a bed or get timely health care.

How and why is this happening?

If the problem that uninsured people have is not being able to afford health insurance – then how this issue get solved is a problem.  Either the system bumps along the way things are or somehow there will have to be healthcare for all. If there are other solutions, our legislators need to explore them.

When I was brought to the emergency room, the only bed available was in the area of the emergency room that was the psychiatric unit. Being placed there, another issue came into clear focus.

The mental health care in this country is simply not working.  A percentage of the people without health insurance will have mental health issue at some time, and they will also end up in their hospital’s emergency room. Mental health issues are not as quickly dealt with as a strep throat — so a few nights in the emergency room might not solve the mental health issues for many of these people.

What are the answers to the mental health issues of the uninsured?

Health care insurance would certainly help keep those who are having mental health issues from entering the hospital’s emergency rooms. Although that would be very helpful, there are mental health issues that are far more complicated than that.

Years ago, with the advent of psychiatric medicines, the states, including Connecticut, started to shut down their mental health hospitals. The mental health hospital in Newtown, for example, is now the campus for the town’s government agencies, and in  Waterbury, VT, what was their mental health hospital, now houses Vermont’s state government agencies.  

The fact that all the hospitals that were dedicated to mental health issues have been closed is but one issue – there are so many more issues– and they will need to be explored before the country can solve its huge mental health problems.

Nancy Alderman is President of Environment and Human Health, Inc. North Haven