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Emergency Department Visits for Behavioral and Mental Health Care after a Terrorist Attack

DiMaggio, Charles J.; Galea, Sandro; Richardson, Lynne D.

To assess emergency department utilization by a population whose health care encounters can be tracked and quantified for behavioral and mental health conditions in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We assessed presentations to emergency departments using Medicaid analytic extract files for adult New York State residents for 2000 and 2001. We created four mutually exclusive geographic areas that were progressively more distant from the World Trade Center and divided data into 4 time periods. All persons in the files were categorized by their zip code of residence. We coded primary emergency department diagnoses for post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, psychogenic illness, severe psychiatric illness, depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders, stress-related disorders, and adjustment disorders. There was a 10.1% relative temporal increase in the rate of emergency department behavioral and mental health diagnoses following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for adult Medicaid enrollees residing within a 3-mile radius of the World Trade Center site. Other geographic areas experienced relative declines. In population-based comparisons, Medicaid recipients, who lived within 3 miles of the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks had a 20% increased risk of an emergency department mental health diagnosis (Prevalence Density Ratio 1.2, 95% CI 1.1, 1.3) compared to those who were non-New York City residents. The complex role that emergency departments may play in responding to terrorism and disasters is becoming increasingly apparent. To the best of our knowledge this is the first report of a quantifiable increase in emergency department utilization for mental health services by persons exposed to a terrorist attack in the United States.

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Annals of Emergency Medicine, vol. 50, no. 3 (September 2007), pp. 327-334.

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