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DIGGING DEEPER: Man who suffers from mental illness claims shortage of hospital beds due to COVID-19

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The pandemic is taking a toll on everyone, but those with mental health issues are feeling it even more. 

A 58-year-old Tucson man who is considered severely mentally ill told News 4 Tucson he was recently in crisis and it took hours before he was given a hospital bed.

"I was taken to Banner South and it was totally inundated with people," the man said. "There were people sleeping on cots no mats on the floor and sleeping in chairs."

The individual asked to remain anonymous. He said he did not want people to know about his illness and potentially hurt his chances of getting a job.

He said he was up for three straight days worrying, like many others during this pandemic.

"No job, no employment, I don't see any solution to anything outside of starting the employment back up," he said. "Our government can't handle it economically it's devastating everybody."

On Jan. 4, he said he knew he needed help.

"My lips got dried out and I couldn't talk," he said. "Nobody could understand me."

His brother called his psychiatrist, who never got back to him.  He also contacted one of the behavioral health services that had been helping, and they never got back to him either. 

Tucson Police Department was called. When they arrived to assist the 58-year-old, they took him to Banner South.

He said police told him he was threatening people. He said he did not remember that. However, he does remember waiting four hours at the hospital before he was taken by ambulance to Sonora Behavioral Health where he was admitted for 15 days.

TPD Sgt. Jason Winsky heads the Mental Health Support Team.

"There's no doubt if a person is struggling with mental health issues, with substance use issues or maybe even a combination of both, this is certainly not helping," he said. "Certainly, things like a pandemic absolutely exacerbate what we see out on the street."

That means wait times at the hospitals during the COVID-10 crisis are going to be long.

"But nevertheless those beds are still available," Winsky said. "We're going to ask members of the community to be as patient with us and the treatment community as possible as we continue to deliver service."

The 58-year-old said TPD petitioned the court he continues treatment.

A check with the Arizona Complete Health said there was no shortage of beds due to COVID-19. ACH also shared that there are even beds available for people who have mental health issues and have COVID-19.

  • This is the link to our Suicide Prevention resource page, which includes all of the crisis phone numbers and hotlines: https://www.azcompletehealth.com/suicide_prevention.html
  • For your convenience, a screenshot of those crisis numbers is listed below. The crisis lines are 24/7 and open to everyone, regardless of who their insurer is or whether they are insured at all. Through these lines, people can get immediate help for behavioral healthcare needs and then get connected to resources in their community. Most of these mental healthcare needs are able to be resolved over the telephone. But when they cannot be resolved over the phone, the crisis line is able to dispatch a crisis mobile team to meet that person where they are and offer services on the spot.
  • The statewide 2-1-1 line is also offering free services for people needing support with mental healthcare needs during this pandemic. This has been an outstanding service at no cost.
  • Another resource is calling your health plan to see what resources are available under your health coverage.

Here is some other additional basic information from our website:

Worry and anxiety can rise about the spread of COVID-19. Concern for friends and family who live in places where COVID-19 is spreading or the progression of the disease is natural.

  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate.
  • Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships and a sense of hope and positive thinking.
  • Share the facts about COVID-19 and the actual risk to others. People who have returned from areas of ongoing spread more than 14 days ago and do not have symptoms of COVID-19 do not put others at risk.
  • For more information, see the CDC’s suggestions for mental health and coping during COVID-19

For more information, visit azcompletehealth.com.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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