Emergency room physicians statewide say they often can't find beds for psychiatric patients, while the state Department of Public Welfare says there is no shortage.

Last fall the Pennsylvania Medical Society House of Delegates cited the lack of easy access to psychiatric beds for emergency room patients who need them. And Thursday, the American College of Emergency Physicians gave the state generally high grades for access to emergency care, but also lamented problems with finding psychiatric treatment for emergency room patients.

Overall, the national group's state-by-state report card on emergency care rated Pennsylvania a C-plus, the sixth-best ranking nationally. The grade for overall access to emergency care was a B-plus, despite some ER closings across the state that have increased crowding.

Psychiatric treatment is a particular problem for emergency departments, which are not staffed to treat patients with psychiatric disorders. But, according to the medical society and the report issued Thursday, many psychiatric patients end up staying in emergency departments for days because beds are not readily available.

After the medical society's report last fall, the state DPW responded that the state has an adequate number of psychiatric beds.

If so, the issue is ensuring that emergency department personnel in a given region know where beds are available at a given time.

The physicians have called for establishment of a statewide computerized registry of psychiatric beds, akin to one that has operated in Maryland since last fall, so that psychiatric patients can more quickly be connected with the specialized care they need.

There would be some cost to such a system but it likely would not be prohibitive, especially compared with the costs - ranging from repeat emergency room visits to jail time - for psychiatric patients who aren't appropriately treated.