CHA Plans to Close 11 Psychiatric Treatment Beds for Young Children With Acute Mental Illness
The Loss of CHA’s Psychiatric Beds Comes at a Time of a Critical Shortage of Beds for Children and Adolescents with Mental Illness in the State, When Children Languish for Days or Even Weeks in Hospital EDs Waiting for These Beds
MNA/NNU Will Call for Public Hearing by Department of Public Health to Determine if This Plan Constitutes the Loss of an Essential Service
CAMBRIDGE, Mass — In the wake of the announcement today by Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) of a controversial plan to close 11 child psychiatric beds, specifically beds dedicated to the care of children age 3 – 9, the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United has announced its strong opposition to this plan as it represents an abandonment of a population of children who need the care provided by this award-winning program.
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 -12; and a separate 14-bed Adolescent Assessment Unit for children 12 -19. The CHA plan is to consolidate these units, reducing the 27 beds currently available to children to just 16 beds – a 30 percent cut to their bed capacity for children with mental illness. The new combined unit will serve children from 9 – 18, which will mean younger children aged 3 – 8 will no longer have access to care at the facility. In fact, 45 percent of the children seen on the CAU are between the ages of 4 – 8.
“We are appalled by this decision, and what it will mean for the children in our region who need the services these units provide,” said Betty Kaloustian, RN, chair of the MNA/NNU local bargaining unit at CHA’s Cambridge Hospital campus. “We intend to fight this closure and to see review of this decision by the Department of Public Health, as we believe this is an essential service that cannot be lost.”
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. In fact, the legislature has formed a special Mental Health Commission this year, which was created specifically to respond to this growing crisis. As a result of this crisis, more than 40,000 patients a year, many of them children and adolescents, are being boarded in our hospitals emergency departments waiting from several hours to several days for treatment beds, and the waits for children and adolescents are even longer.
The nurses on both units report that their beds are nearly always full and often times there are patients waiting to be admitted for care. Both units not only serve children in Greater Boston, but take admissions from across the Commonwealth and sometimes take children from border states, in recognition of the shortage of these types of beds.
The nurses also question the wisdom of mixing a population of older adolescents, who may be assaultive, with a population of younger patients as young as age 9. “Younger children, particularly those who are already in a vulnerable state, should not be exposed to this older population. It makes no sense logically or therapeutically,” Kaloustian said.