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Planning for Psychiatric Patient Movement During Emergencies and Disasters

This document identifies basic considerations to assist public health and medical planners to prepare for the movement of psychiatric patients in the event of a disaster and to guide responders and care providers during psychiatric patient movement. Differences in State and local laws, regulations, and requirements will need to be considered when conducting planning for movement or evacuation of psychiatric patients. Please note that this document addresses patients of psychiatric facilities or units (rather than residents of community program

  1. Psychiatric patients are patients receiving health care. Important hospital procedures and facility accreditation requirements for medical patients (e.g., medical records, medication transport and distribution) should apply equally to psychiatric patients. 
  2. Planning specific to psychiatric patient movement should be integrated into the hospital’s main plan.  Likewise, any standard operating procedures related to psychiatric patients should be reflective of the hospital or facility’s overall emergency operations plan.   
  3. Psychiatric patients may be located in:   
    1. Units within general hospitals;     
    2. Facilities on the grounds of, or affiliated with, general hospitals; or    
    3. Stand-alone facilities which may be privately operated or run by the state.   
  4. Law and practice varies considerably by state. It is possible that psychiatric patients with different admission statuses may be housed on the same unit. However, psychiatric patients’ admission statuses often fall into one of three categories:   
    1. Voluntary patients who are free to sign themselves out at any time;   
    2. Patients held on civil commitments or similar mechanisms who are not free to leave or have other restrictions on their movement; or   
    3. “Forensic” patients who are involved in the criminal justice system, such as through court-ordered pre-trial evaluation, post-trial conviction, or court-ordered treatment.    
  5. Individuals with behavioral health needs are able to demonstrate resilience in the wake of a disaster or an emergency.