News & Events

MNA and NAMI Mass Efforts Move DPH to Delay Closure of Burbank Psych Unit

As reported in yesterday’s Sentinel & Enterprise, efforts by the MNA and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness has resulted in a call by the state Department of Public Health to delay the proposed closing of a 15-bed psychiatric unit at Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg. Follow the link below to view the news story on this issue, and click here to view the letter from DPH to Health Alliance officials requesting more information to justify the closing. The MNA and other mental health advocates are very clear in their assessment that there is no financial or moral justification for this closing, as it will deprive the community of acute mental health services at a time when the state’s mental health system is in crisis. The proposed closing also comes after UMass Memorial/Health Alliance has reported profits of more than $160 million over the last two years.

Department of Health wants information on psych unit
By Kevin Doherty,
Posted: 01/04/2011 07:59:57 AM EST

FITCHBURG — The state’s Department of Public Health is requesting additional information on the impact the closing of the inpatient psychiatric unit at HealthAlliance Hospital’s Burbank campus will have on patients before it decides whether the unit should close.

In a letter dated Dec. 24, DPH officials asked HealthAlliance CEO Patrick Muldoon for information including:

  • How many patients are typically cared for at the 15-bed unit;
  • The travel times to alternative inpatient psychiatric sites and the availability of public transportation from the area to those sites for patients and family members;
  • Discussions between the HealthAlliance officials and alternative inpatient sites about coordinating care of local patients;
  • More information on what consideration was given to inpatient services at the hospital’s Leominster campus.

Muldoon announced in September that the inpatient psychiatric unit would close due to budget cuts, meaning HealthAlliance Hospital would no longer provide long-term inpatient services for those with mental illness.

Hospital officials had proposed Dec. 31, as the unit’s closing date, but the closing is delayed until more information is submitted to the DPH.

"It is the finding of our Department that the information the hospital has submitted is insufficient to determine if the proposed plan will assure access to inpatient psychiatric services in the community following the hospital’s closure of these services," stated the Dec. 24 letter, signed by Alice Bonner, director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality at the DPH.

"The Department is deeply concerned that the hospital appears to have made a final decision to discontinue inpatient psychiatric services and to have established a closure date before the hearing was held, comments from interested parties were heard and the Department was provided with (a) plan for continued access," Bonner added.

HealthAlliance spokeswoman Mary Lourdes Burke said it’s not unusual for the DPH to ask for additional information on a proposal to "make sure all the bases are covered."

"We recognize the value of working collaboratively with them and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health because we are working toward the same goal," Burke said. "Right now, we are working diligently on responding to the request to have it submitted in a timely manner and within the given timeline."

Presenting a plan to DPH officials is required when a hospital chooses to end a service. In this case, HealthAlliance must show that the mentally ill will be able to find inpatient treatment at other hospitals in the region in order for the DPH to authorize the closure.

DPH officials held a public hearing on Dec. 1, where about 100 people attended, and advocates for the mentally ill decried the planned closure, saying the loss of inpatient services in Fitchburg will make it harder for local patients to receive treatment quickly, and close to home.

The services and many of the staff members from Burbank will move to the hospital’s Leominster campus, where they will be able to treat patients with mental health needs right away in the Emergency Department, Muldoon said during the public hearing.

The hospital is not discontinuing treatment for patients with mental health issues, he added.