UPDATE: 90 minutes after our story aired, Charlie Bunnell's family was notified that a psychiatric bed has become available at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
A Maryland man has spent 11 of the last 16 days as an ER patient at two different hospitals. Family members say it’s because there are too few specialty psychiatric beds available.
Hospital emergency rooms are generally used for patients with an immediate need for medical attention. But 28-year-old Charlie Bunnell has a different kind of medical emergency. Bunnell has been developmentally disabled from birth, and he has serious psychiatric problems, which landed him in the emergency room at Medstar Southern Maryland Hospital on November 18.
Because no appropriate psychiatric beds were available anywhere nearby, he spent five days there as an ER patient.
“I was told by the state that he had to be discharged,” said Charlie’s mom, Lilly Matheny. “I didn’t agree with it. I didn’t think he was stable enough, but they told me he had to go to a respite place. He had to get out of the ER.”
Bunnell was taken to a privately run respite home, but on Thanksgiving Day, he was apparently uncooperative and aggressive. Police were called, and he was brought in handcuffs to the ER at Laurel Regional Hospital, where he remains an ER patient.
Matheny has visited her son almost daily, and says the ER docs are trying to get Bunnell admitted to a psych hospital that can cope with his developmental disabilities – such hospitals have few beds.
“For some reason we don’t understand (and the doctors keep telling me) that they don’t understand why he keeps getting denied everywhere,” said Matheny. “They haven’t just tried these two hospitals [Shepherd Pratt and Johns Hopkins], they’re trying everywhere in Maryland. They’ve also tried out-of-state. But he gets turned down everywhere.”
Bunnell’s family believes he needs 2 to 3 weeks of intensive psychiatric treatment, then a step-down program to help him integrate back into the community. Only then, they believe, when his crisis is over (and his meds are back in balance) can Bunnell resume living in a group home, as he has for the last few years.
But until there’s appropriate psychiatric bed available, Bunnell remains an ER patient at Laurel Regional Hospital, where he has been since Thanksgiving afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Laurel Regional Hospital said federal privacy regulations prohibit that facility from commenting on the status of a particular patient.
A spokeswoman for Maryland’s Developmental Disability Administration told us the same thing.