Mentally ill patients, elderly mix in nursing homes

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Carla K. Johnson of The Associated Press reports that “nursing homes have become dumping grounds for young and middle-age people with mental illness, according to Associated Press interviews and an analysis of data from all 50 states.”

She writes that younger, stronger residents with mental illness are living alongside frail elderly residents, a situation that she calls a “prescription for violence.”

Numbers obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and prepared exclusively for the AP by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show nearly 125,000 young and middle-aged adults with serious mental illness lived in U.S. nursing homes last year.

Those numbers represent a sharp increase – 41 percent – from 2002.

Trends Johnson identifies as driving the problem:

  • The closing of state mental institutions and a shortage of hospital psychiatric beds
  • Nursing homes have beds to fill because today’s elderly are healthier than those before them and more likely to stay in their homes.
  • Mixing the mentally ill with the elderly makes economic sense for states. As long as a nursing home’s mentally ill population stays under 50 percent, the federal government will help pay for the residents’ care under Medicaid.

2 thoughts on “Mentally ill patients, elderly mix in nursing homes

  1. LaurenRN

    As a Registered Nurse who has cared for geriatric people for 20 years in nursing homes, I feel that our government is letting both the elderly population, and the mentally ill population down. The elderly people certainly deserve safety, and living in peace is only right at their age. Mentally ill individuals who are prone to violence have no place in nursing homes with frail elderly populations. Another thing about this is that the two groups have opposite interests. It is a frustrating experience for a mentally ill person to be forced into a place surrounded by a hundred quiet elderly people when they would rather (and deserve to be) active, loud, and entertained. Our laws twist things so that it is extremely difficult for a nursing home to discharge a patient unless they find a suitable place to send them. That’s fine, if the place they came from was honest and explained the true condition of the person ,but there is almost no suitable place for the mentally ill person to go. So, many unscrupulous facilities misrepresent the diagnosis of whom they want to have admitted to a nursing home.All the way around, our system needs an overhaul. I believe elderly people deserve to age in place, and avoid the pitfall of being forced to live with violent mentally ill people.

  2. Pamela Roberts

    I’m only 52 years old facing living in a convalescent home for the rest of my life because of osteo-arthritis throughout & a host of other physical ailments which make it impossible for me to take care of myself any longer. I had a frightening experience 2 weeks ago when a mentally ill resident, who usually lives in the assisted living part of our facility, attacked me and a friend of mine who also lives here & was trying to protect me as I am in a wheelchair. You should’ve seen the look in her eyes while she was hitting me! Two years ago if you would’ve told me this woman is violent I would’ve told you you’re crazy, however, she changed dramatically over the past year. After I reported the unprovoked attack to “management” this woman was sent out to a hospital 3 times and, because they can’t find a bed at another facility, they shipped her right back here each time. This facility (Corona Care Convalescent in Corona, CA) has done nothing to guarantee MY safety. They even tried to push me to leavr for another facility.I know my rights & so far, no one is trying to protect them.

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