How to choose a psychiatric hospital?

iStock_000014320433MediumMaking a decision about which hospital to seek treatment at usually comes at a time of crisis for the person and their loved ones. The risks of harm to the person or others can create an emergency situation in which a decision must be reached in short notice: where can we get help? If there is time for research or following the immediate crisis stabilization, there are some basic points to consider in selecting an appropriate treatment facility for a person’s mental health needs.

Let’s start with accreditation and licensing which indicate how the treatment organization complies with nationally recognized external standards and state laws and regulations which govern hospitals and treatment facilities. Is the organization accredited through the Joint Commission or CARF? Is the program specifically recognized for its specialization(s)? Has the accreditation been awarded for a full-term, usually three years, or is it a shorter-term or provisional accreditation? The Joint Commission and CARF websites can provide you with specific details about the accreditation report for the organization. As voluntary national accreditation is important, state licensing is of equal value. Is there a license for the facility? Is it current? Many state organizations have a “Report Card” for licensed organizations which can be reviewed on the state licensing authority website. It’s important to look for accreditation certificates and licenses in the lobby or public areas of the hospital.

Next is to locate the organization’s mission, vision and values statement. Do their values fit with your personal understanding of what makes for good treatment? Do the people you meet at the organization reflect values of caring, concern, respect and compassion for you and your family member? Is there a Patient Bill of Rights or statement of how the organization will protect and respect the person’s rights during the treatment process? The Bill of Rights may be displayed in the Admission area or be part of the Patient Handbook or other admissions-related documents.

iStock_000014683658MediumAs the decision-making process develops it becomes important to know who operates the organization. Who are the physicians? What are their credentials? Who are the therapists? And, what are their credentials? Some of these questions may be answered during the admission process by the Admissions Counselor. Often organizations will provide this information on their website under a heading like “Our Staff” or “About Us”. It is important to know that the people who provide treatment have appropriate education, credentials and experience.

Another aspect of the fact finding process relates to establishing how the organization communicates its treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction to the public. Is this information available on the website? Is the outcome information based on objective data, such as pre-admission and post-treatment assessments? Does the outcome information cover recent and past periods? This is important to determine the long-term trend in how people do in treatment. Customer or Patient Satisfaction is an important measure of how individuals view the program and its ability to meet their needs. Patient Satisfaction should include information which represents: how information is presented to the person regarding their care and treatment; how their participation in decision making about their treatment is supported; the level of involvement of the person in their discharge planning, aftercare and relapse prevention and, in how the person feels they were respected and treated by staff members of the organization. Sometimes, an organization will post testimonials from past patients who may provide insight into aspects of treatment and outcomes. As an educated consumer you should look for this information to guide you in the decision-making process.

Recommendations from past patients or their family is another way to learn about a psychiatric hospital and its programs. You might find out their opinion of how the program helped them with their problem, responded to their needs and helped them with managing their symptoms and problems after treatment. The opinions of past consumers can assist you in understanding how the hospital’s treatment program could be of assistance to you.

Certainly, it is important to be able to find out who can answer your questions once treatment has started. Of course, your family member will need to consent with the information exchange for this to occur as hospitals and treatment organizations are bound by privacy and confidentiality standards which are referred to as HIPPA.

hospital-mediumFinally, it’s the small things that count, too. How are you greeted by staff when you arrive at the hospital? Is the atmosphere friendly? Is the lobby clean and comfortable? Does the place smell nice? Are the grounds of the hospital and buildings well maintained? While these points may be purely subjective they are indicators of the organization. In some organizations you can identify how long staff members have been there by “year pins” on their identification badges. It doesn’t hurt to ask that question of the people you meet as it also speaks to stability and the qualities of the workplace which impact on treatment.

Selecting a treatment organization is not an easy task. It requires considering information from different sources, sometimes at a time when an urgent decision is needed. Hopefully, this guide will help you with identifying the questions and where to seek the answers.