WORCESTER, Mass., March 28, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Mass. Department of Public Health will hold a public hearing on March 30 concerning the plan by UMass Memorial Medical Center (UMMMC) to close 13 of 28 inpatient psychiatric beds at its University Campus at a time when the psychiatric unit is nearly always full and patients are boarding in the hospital's emergency department for several hours to several days waiting for needed care and services.
When: Thursday, March 30 at 4 p.m.
Where: St. George Cathedral, 30 Anna Street, Worcester MA
The public hearing is part of the legal process UMMMC is required to go through prior to closing the beds, which is designed to determine if this is an essential service for patients in the Commonwealth. The proposed closing has been met with strong grassroots opposition by a variety of groups and individuals, including mental health advocates, community organizations, clinicians and elected officials. Opponents to the closing believe the loss of this service will have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable residents struggling with mental illness in Greater Worcester and beyond, as it comes at a time when the Worcester Community Health Assessment found that Worcester residents experience rates of mental illness and hospitalization above the state average; and when there is a critical shortage of these types of beds and services in the Commonwealth. On March 7, the Worcester City Council cast a unanimous vote in opposition to the closure
In January, the management of UMass Memorial Medical Center announced plans to close 13 of the 28 psychiatric beds on 8 East, its busy inpatient psychiatric unit, and to convert these beds to medical surgical beds.
"We believe this is a shortsighted and dangerous proposal that is in direct violation of the UMass mission to provide comprehensive care to all members of the Greater Worcester community," said Lisa Goss, RN, a psychiatric nurse who has worked on 8 East for more than 12 years. "These are patients in crisis with multiple diagnoses who need immediate inpatient services who will now be forced to travel long distances for care, receive inadequate care, or go without treatment altogether."
Background on the Issue
On 8 East staff care for patients from the age of 16 up to geriatrics. They suffer from a range of mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and also may be suicidal, self-injurious, and have homicidal thoughts and behavior. These patients often also need treatment for other medical issues which they are able to receive on 8 East because it is a medical psychiatric unit within an acute care hospital.
This unit is nearly always full, while at the same time, the UMass University and UMass Memorial emergency departments are overburdened with psychiatric patients waiting for a bed on this or any other unit in the state that can take them. These patients often wait several hours to several days for a bed.
UMass management is proposing this dangerous plan at a time when there is a critical and growing shortage of mental health beds in the Commonwealth. A recent report by the state's Mental Health Advisory Committee found that more than 40,000 patients a year are boarding in our state's hospital emergency departments, many for days or even weeks waiting for treatment.
Another recent report by the Health Policy Commission highlighted the issue of ED overcrowding and increased visits to hospitals by patients with behavior health issues. The report found that Central Mass hospitals saw a 35 percent increase in visits to hospital emergency departments by patients with mental health conditions over a four-year period, the same period when UMass closed a psychiatric unit at Burbank Hospital.
Yet another DPH report on mental health bed and service capacity showed that central Mass ranks near the bottom among regions of the state for beds per population.
In proposing this plan, UMass cites the fact to DPH that they have contracted with TaraVista Behavioral Health Center, a Devens facility to provide beds for impacted patients, and it noted that Signature Healthcare Services LLC, a California-based operator of private psychiatric hospitals, is due to open a hospital in Westboro.
As stated above, many of the patients on this unit suffer from comorbidities, which means they have medical as well as psychological issues that need to be treated. "Neither of the facilities proposed to take our patients can provide that level of care so they will be of no use," Goss explained. Also in the case of the private facility, it, like many private facilities, are reluctant to take MassHealth patients, which means this is another cohort of patients, the most poor and underserved, who will go without care."
The MNA believes this proposal is a cynical ploy by UMMMC to boost profits by converting psychiatric beds, which are subject to lower reimbursement rates, to more profitable medical surgical beds.
Since the announcement, the nurses have been mobilizing the community to be aware of this plan and to urge concerned residents to attend the public hearing on March 30. A petition is also being widely circulated opposing the closing, which will be presented at the hearing. The nurses have also had a meeting with upper management of the hospital where they urged them to rescind this plan, at which time UMMMC management refused to change their course.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.
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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association