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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Psychiatric hospitals are often the last resort for people suffering from mental illness, but recent news stories serve as a reminder that too often, these hospitals aren't the safe haven they should be.

The big picture: There are plenty of horror stories about mental health patients caught in abusive or predatory situations, but experts say there's really no good data on the quality or safety of psychiatric inpatient facilities, making it difficult to hold them accountable.

Stories about bad mental health care aren't new. They also serve an outsized role, given the lack of patient safety information.

  • "At the moment, journalists appear to be the only consistent source of information on patient safety," said Morgan Shields, a Ph.D. candidate researching psychiatric inpatient care at Brandeis University.

Driving the news:

  • In September, the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation of North Tampa Behavioral Health, a psychiatric hospital that "makes huge profits by exploiting patients held under Florida’s mental health law."
  • Earlier this month, the Seattle Times reported on 10 private psychiatric hospitals in Washington state that have been approved or expanded since 2012. The paper found a series of safety issues, bad record-keeping and instances of hospitals trying to keep voluntary patients from leaving.
  • A few days later, the Los Angeles Times published an account of one patient allegedly murdering another at Kedren Community Health Center, a psychiatric hospital that the LA Times found guilty of "serious failures of oversight in the care of patients."

Between the lines: Psychiatric hospitals, like nursing homes, by definition care for a vulnerable population who often struggle to advocate for themselves.

  • Facilities may then exploit patients' vulnerability in order to drive profits higher.
  • "Patients often are not able to choose where they go ... and, even if they could choose a hospital, patients and family often do not have any information on the quality of care provided," Shields said.

Further complicating the issue is that the U.S. has a shortage of mental health care to begin with; there aren't enough beds for all of the patients who need treatment.

  • "In effect, psychiatric hospitals might be too big to fail depending on the local context; hospitals might be aware of this and therefore not fear being sanctioned," Shields said.

Go deeper

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker