When: May 8 at 2 p.m.
Where: The Macht Auditorium at Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge St. in Cambridge MA
Who: Family members, nurses, care providers, legislators and mental health advocates from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and other organizations will all be attending and speaking out against the proposed closure at the May 8 hearing.
The Department of Public Health will hold a public hearing on May 8 concerning a controversial proposal by Cambridge Health Alliance to close 40 percent of beds in its pediatric behavioral health unit and to stop providing inpatient psychiatric care for children ages three to eight at a time when there is a statewide shortage of beds for young children suffering from serious mental health conditions.
The public hearing is part of the legal process Cambridge Health Alliance is required to go through prior to closing the unit, and it is designed to determine if the services offered by the unit are essential to patients in the community. The unit currently cares for very young children with a wide variety of disorders, including: severe mental illnesses; autistic spectrum disorders; mood disorders; anxiety disorders; bipolar disorder; as well as children dealing with homicidal/suicidal thoughts, trauma, and abuse.
The pediatric behavioral unit at Cambridge Hospital is staffed by a team of dedicated and highly educated professionals, and they care for hundreds of children each year. Many of these children come from across the commonwealth to receive world-renowned, specialized care in an environment that is geared to their age-specific needs and that allows families to be an integral part of the treatment process.
Currently, Cambridge Health Alliance operates two separate units for the care of children and adolescents with acute mental illness: a 13-bed Child Assessment Unit (CAU) for children ages 3 to 12; and a separate 14-bed Adolescent Assessment Unit for children 12 to 19. The CHA plan is to consolidate these units, reducing the 27 beds currently available to children to just 16 beds a 40 percent cut to their bed capacity for children with mental illness. The new combined unit will serve children from 9 to 18, which will mean younger children aged 3 to 8 will no longer have access to care at the facility and that children as young as 9 will be receiving their care on a floor with adolescents who are in crisis and who are as old as 18, a pairing that opponents argue is both dangerous and unfair for children, their parents, and their family members.
The decision comes at a time when there is a critical shortage of all types of mental health services and beds in the commonwealth, particularly beds for children and adolescents. As a result of this crisis, hundreds of patients with mental illness, many of them children and adolescents, are being boarded in the emergency departments of our hospitals waiting from several hours to several days for treatment beds, and the waits for children and adolescents are even longer.
“These are the sickest children in the state,” said Kerry McAllister, an RN who works on the CAU. “From an advocacy point of view, it’s very concerning because this is a time when children and families need more of these services, not less. We can’t afford to cut essential services for this very vulnerable population.”