We are pleased to announce another victory for the MNANNU in our Mental Health Access Campaign, as Vanguard, owner of St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, has abandoned a plan to permanently close its inpatient psychiatric unit, and has instead, announced that it will move this unit to its downtown facility in Worcester. The MNA has led a multi-year effort to keep this unit open, and in fact, the potential closing of this unit was the impetus for the launching of our Mental Health Access Campaign, which earlier this year, resulted in the saving of 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital.
The unit will open in April. It also will earmark four such beds for Central Massachusetts residents at the Natick campus of the Metro West Medical Center, which, like St. Vincent, is owned by Vanguard Health Systems.
The decision follows St. Vincent’s announcement in April that it was closing the 15 acute psychiatric beds at its Vernon Hill campus, which has been sold and is slated for demolition.
“We are thrilled that we can continue to provide psychiatric services to the most vulnerable in our community. The addition of adult psychiatric beds at St. Vincent Hospital allows us to continue to build upon the rich tradition we have already established while continuing to meet community need,” said Erik G. Wexler, president of the New England market for Vanguard and St. Vincent president and chief executive officer.
Psychiatric service will not be interrupted between the demolition of one campus and the opening of the psychiatric unit at 123 Summer St., Mr. Wexler said.
In April, St. Vincent announced Athol Memorial Hospital would open a 10-bed locked adult psychiatric inpatient unit and St. Vincent would open a 10-bed geriatric psychiatric unit in an open ward at its downtown campus. After a plan for Vanguard to acquire the 25-bed Athol Memorial Hospital fell through, the plan for a psychiatric unit was put on hold, according to James W. Meehan, Athol Memorial’s acting chief executive officer.
That resulted in St. Vincent discussing the transfer of psychiatric beds with Henry Heywood Hospital in Gardner, which has an agreement to merge boards of trustees with Athol Memorial.
Winfield S. Brown, president and chief executive officer of Heywood, said Thursday he has “no concrete plans” to expand the number of behavioral-health beds beyond the 12 adult and 20 geriatric psychiatric beds in secure units at Heywood.
That has nothing to do with St. Vincent’s announcement, but more to do with inadequate funding to build a psychiatric unit and to reimburse the hospital for psychiatric care at a comparable rate for medical-surgical beds, Mr. Brown said. He hopes a committee established by this year’s Massachusetts health care reform bill will change that, he said, because inpatient psychiatric care is “one of the most pressing needs in North Central Massachusetts.”
St. Vincent officials said that “timing and unanticipated constraints made the original plan with Athol Memorial Hospital unfeasible. As a result, the hospital has decided to use the space planned for the new geriatric psychiatry program on the main campus to relocate the adult inpatient acute psychiatry from the Vernon Hill facility.”
The Massachusetts Nurses Association hailed the announcement. “We applaud the decision,” said David Schildmeier, MNA communications director. “It’s something we’ve been advocating for well over a year.”
He said, “This is a very important development for those suffering from mental illness in Massachusetts, as this will preserve psychiatric beds at a time when there is a dramatic and dangerous shortage of those beds.”
Although replacing adult acute care with geriatric psychiatric care would not have had an impact on nursing employment, said Marie Ritacco, a member of the MNA executive committee at St. Vincent, keeping the adult acute care was the “right thing to do” because emergency rooms across the state, including St. Vincent’s, are overwhelmed by psychiatric patients languishing there because of a shortage of adult acute inpatient care.
Mr. Wexler said the adult psychiatric unit will be on the third floor of the 12-year-old facility in what is now a vacant 20-bed medical-surgical unit. St. Vincent is licensed for 270 beds — 201 of them medical-surgical, spokesman Dennis L. Irish said. It has a 78 percent average occupancy rate.