Providence Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts — owned by Mercy Medical Center — is planning to close all its inpatient psychiatric beds on Tuesday despite concerns from the state and criticism from staff.
Hospitals that want to shut down services go through a review process with the state Department of Public Health (DPH). But the department has no authority to stop Mercy or its parent company Trinity Health from closing its psychiatric units.
Earlier in June, the state had told Mercy to reconsider its closing date since it could not show there is enough alternative care for mental health patients in western Massachusetts.
In a June 5 letter, DPH wrote that Mercy’s plan for closure "does not adequately meet the needs of the patients in the community." From the letter:
The Department is deeply concerned that the proposed closure of fifty inpatient psychiatric beds and twenty-four pediatric beds on or about June 30, 2020, will impact the timely admission and treatment of persons in need of inpatient psychiatric care in the Springfield area and western Massachusetts. As a result, Mercy Medical Center must re-assess the proposed date for the closure of these beds so as to best meet the needs of those individuals presenting with a need for inpatient psychiatric care.
Providence had been providing the state's only psychiatric beds for children and teens west of Worcester, and many of the available adult beds in the same area.
Mercy officials have said they can’t find enough psychiatrists to meet the needs of the hospital due to a "persistent shortage" of qualified clinicians.
In a statement, the hospital wrote that it was no longer able to meet a standard of "safe, quality care":
After exploring many options and regularly reassessing whether services at Providence Hospital can be continued, sadly, we continue to find that due to significant staffing issues, we are no longer able to provide the level of safe, quality care at Providence that is required and that patients deserve.
Mercy has said previously that the reimbursement levels for psychiatric care do not cover the cost of delivering it.
The DPH was also "concerned" that Providence had shut down its adolescent unit on May 20, well before its stated June 30 closing date.
Mercy later responded that staffing shortages forced the early closure. In a June 26 letter to DPH, Mercy wrote:
Given these realities, Providence Hospital was faced with the decision to either safely discharge the one remaining adolescent patient or provide care that failed to comport with even the minimum requirements.
But critics contend that Trinity Health did not need to close the units at Providence Hospital.
A press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association — which is calling on Governor Charlie Baker to intervene and stop the closure — quoted a nurse saying profits appear to matter more than mental health:
“The fact that this corporation refuses to listen to a huge chorus of nurses, patients, families, elected officials and so many other people crying out to save these beds proves that profits really do matter more than mental health to Trinity Health,” said Cindy Chaplin, an RN of 42 years at Providence Hospital and co-chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “There is no more critical time than now – during a global pandemic and mental health crisis – for Gov. Baker to step in and halt the closure of these essential beds.”
The union has been pushing for legislation that would strengthen the state’s authority in stopping the closure of essential health care services.
Messages to the governor’s office were not returned.
Providence Hospital has not closed its substance abuse units.