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Mental health emergencies: Moms bring attention to delayed care during mental health crises

Two moms on the First Coast say their daughters both had mental health emergencies, and it took days to see a psychiatrist.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — You’re in an emergency, possibly life or death, and you seek help. Imagine being told you might have to wait for days to see the doctor. 

Arrows point you in the right direction of the emergency room, but what happens when you get there and they can’t help you? That’s the problem two local moms want to bring attention to after their daughters went through mental health emergencies and were told it would be days before they got help.

Warning: Some of the descriptions below may be difficult to read.

“If she broke her foot, if we were having a heart attack, if I was having a baby the help would’ve been there 24/7," Traci Wurstner said.

Wurstner reached out to First Coast News to bring attention to the process she says is too slow. She sits in her living room, which is next to her 15-year-old daughter's room. 

She says this is where she was last Sunday when her daughter was having a crisis, and she needed to be close enough to help at all times.

“We woke up and she’s like crying, screaming," Wurstner described. "She made some statements which made us uncomfortable. We couldn’t console her or anything. Then we finally said let’s just take her down (to the hospital) because there’s something more I can’t control."

"She needs help beyond what we could give her," Wurstner said. 

She took her to Baptist Health Emergency Room in Downtown Jacksonville.

“I’d rather be here than a morgue," said Wurstner.

She says her day went as follows:

  • 11 a.m. – Check in
  • 11:45 a.m. – Triage
  • 2 p.m. – ER doctor comes by and refers her to pscyh
  • 8:30 p.m. – Wurstner says she was told that the psychiatrist is not in on weekends. It could be Monday afternoon before she actually sees the doctor who can help her.

“We came home, and we sat with her and she finally fell asleep," she said. "We sat outside her room and we’ve been on pins and needles.”

Story continues below.

It's familiar feeling for another local mom who is not publicly sharing her name. She doesn’t want her daughter to be identified.

“My 15-year-old daughter attempted suicide. She cut her wrists," the local mom said. I could hear her getting choked up as she recalled what happened nearly a year ago.

"We took her to Baptist South. That was around 1 o’clock on a Friday afternoon," she said. 

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The mom says she and her daughter waited more than 30 hours in the ER and says they never saw a psychiatrist in the ER. She says eventually her daughter went to a facility for a week, but she would have liked to see a psychiatrist when her daughter came in the ER.

“To know it’s been almost a year now, and they still haven’t done anything or gotten anywhere (with the process)," she said. 

Wurstner’s daughter finally got an appointment four days later with a psychiatrist via the Bridges program. 

A Baptist Health spokesperson says they have a mental health evaluator who reviews each case with the on-call psychiatrist. If a child is experiencing a mental health crisis, they advise you to call 911 or take the child to the nearest Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center.

But as for the wait, they say wait times may be higher because of COVID-19.

“At what time do you say to your child, I can’t get you the help," Wurstner said.

These moms are hoping to bring awareness to the process for mental health emergency patients and get it changed so they will get treated as quickly as other emergencies.