HOLYOKE, Mass., June 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A memorial event for the closure of 74 child and psychiatric beds at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital by Trinity Health will be held across from the hospital in Holyoke on Wednesday, July 1.
Trinity Health – a national hospital corporation with annual revenue of more than $19 billion – has closed psychiatric beds deemed by the Department of Public Health "necessary for preserving access and health" despite opposition by nurses, healthcare workers, mental health advocates, patients, family members, NAMI Mass and all public officials representing the communities served by the hospital.
Memorial Event Details Date: Wednesday, July 1 Time: 12 p.m. Location: Across from Providence Hospital at 1233 Main St. in Holyoke, MA Details: A socially distanced event with members of a diverse coalition who opposed the closure speaking about their experiences, the impact of the closure and how to fix the broken system that allowed the beds to close.
"Mental healthcare is a crisis in Massachusetts," said Cindy Chaplin, an RN of 42 years at Providence Hospital and co-chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. "The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing emergency departments – where mental health patients board for days or weeks – to higher risk than ever, and there are no other child psychiatric beds from New York to Worcester.
"We mourn the loss of these services," Chaplin said. "But we will also use this heartbreak to fight for long-term, structural change. Hospital executives cannot be allowed to close services under these conditions."
The child and adolescent beds at Providence actually closed prior to June 30 without notice to DPH and in contradiction to Trinity's publicly stated plans and its own letter to DPH stating that it would keep the beds open until June 30, according to a notice DPH sent on June 5. "Mercy Medical Center closed the Providence Behavioral Health Hospital child/adolescent unit on May 20, 2020 without notice to the Department," DPH wrote. "The Department is concerned that the Hospital would discontinue such a unit nine days before submitting a plan which states the patients cared for in this unit would continue to receive care at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital until June 30, 2020."
In Massachusetts and across the country, our society has recognized that mental health should be treated equally with other forms of healthcare. In 2008, Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) to ensure equal coverage of treatment for mental illness and addiction.
Strengthening Hospital Closure Law
MNA nurses and healthcare professionals have been advocating to strengthen Massachusetts hospital closure law because corporations like Trinity Health can shut down services despite enormous opposition and evidence the services are necessary. Legislation to increase enforcement around closures and give the public more of a voice, An Act Relative to the Closing of Hospital Essential Services (S. 672/H. 1139), is pending on Beacon Hill.
"The decision by Trinity Health to eliminate 74 child and adult psychiatric beds even though this will erect huge barriers to access for underserved populations is a stark example of why the law needs to be changed," said Donna Stern, a psychiatric RN and MNA senior co-chair at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, and a member of the MNA Board of Directors. "Every other stakeholder came out forcefully against this closure, and yet Trinity barreled ahead. When it is blatantly clear that profits are coming before patients, we must act to protect our communities from corporate greed."
Peter Arno, a health economist who works with the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Political Economy Research Institute, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that hospital closures and consolidation have been exacerbated by the pandemic. He also noted that one-third of all government health care dollars go to hospitals. And yet, despite that public funding and the essential local services those hospitals provide, government officials often have little to no power to stop a closure, Arno told the newspaper
"It sounds ridiculous and outrageous that the government has no authority to do anything about providing essential services to their community," Arno said. "This is one of the failings of our current system. Because the system is so based on profit … the people, the communities and their representatives have less and less influence on the services that are available to them."
An Act Relative to the Closing of Hospital Essential Services (S. 672/H. 1139) will:
Extend the official notice period to the DPH in advance of a closure or discontinuation of health services.
Require any hospital proposing closure or discontinuation of health services to provide evidence of having notified and provided the opportunity for comment from affected municipalities before the notification period begins.
Instruct the Attorney General to seek an injunction to maintain the essential services for the duration of the notice period.
Prohibit the hospital from eligibility for an application for licensure or expansion for a period of three years from the date the service is discontinued, or until the essential health service is restored, or until such time as the DPH is satisfied with a modified plan.
Learn more about this legislation and hear from nurses who testified about the bill during a hearing last year: https://bit.ly/2VcpkpV.
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.