News & Events

Worcester City Council Passes Resolution Opposing Closure of Psych Beds at UMass Memorial Med. Ctr.

Below are two great stories detailing a unanimous vote on Tuesday night by the Worcester City Council to oppose the proposed closure of desperately needed psychiatric beds at UMass Memorial Medical Center.  The resolution comes as the Department of Public Health prepares to hold a public hearing on March 30 in Worcester to determine if these beds represent an essential service for the Worcester community that should be maintained.  The MNA, along with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and other health care advocates are working to stop this closure, which will only result in exacerbating a growing crisis in access to mental health beds and services in the Commonwealth.  

City officials decry loss of psych beds

By Tom Quinn

March 9, 2017 

Supporters of the Massachusetts Nurses Association rally at City Hall prior to a City Council meeting featuring a discussion on UMass Memorial eliminating psychiatric beds/Tom Quinn photo 

The City Council voted unanimously to oppose UMass Memorial Medical Center’s proposed plan to close 13 of their 28 inpatient psychiatric beds, sending a message to the hospital that they, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association advocates who rallied at City Hall, viewed the closings as a detriment to public health and overall quality of life in Worcester.

“There is no moral or clinical justification for this decision,” Sandy Ellis, a psychiatric nurse and MNA union organizer, said. “If it’s allowed to stand, the most vulnerable members of our community struggling with mental illness will wait longer for care, receive inadequate care and many will go without care altogether. We are here to seek your help and to ask you to use your influence as leaders of this city to stand up for these patients and families.”

While the City Council has no authority over the day-to-day operations at UMass Memorial, councilors expressed hope their vote on a resolution opposing the measure would cause the healthcare giant to reconsider.

“You’ll see there’s going to be an increase of arrests,” District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera, who initially put the issue on the Council agenda, said. “You’re going to see a burden that’s going to be put on our police department and our Quality of Life Task Force. We’re going to see an increase, if we’re concerned about the issue of homelessness and encampments, we’re going to see that as well.” 

The beds, according to the proposal, would be converted to medical surgical beds, something UMass Memorial said in a statement was in the best interest of the hospital and its patients. 

“The UMass Memorial Medical Center leadership team has spent nearly two years of thoughtful planning, research and analysis and is convinced that this plan is not only the best course of action, but is also the right thing to do,” the hospital said in an emailed statement. “These changes address critical hospital capacity issues and are in the best interest of our behavioral health and medical/surgical patients.”

But it did not escape MNA’s notice – and the notice of their allies from other local unions – that medical surgical beds also have higher reimbursement rates, with Ellis calling the move a “cynical ploy” to boost profits and pointing to comments made by UMass Memorial’s CEO to the Boston Business Journal that pointed to the need to cut costs. That same article cited 260 psychiatric beds coming online in Central Massachusetts, saying that lessened the need for such beds at UMass Memorial.

But psychiatric nurse Lisa Goss, who works in the 8 East unit that would be affected by the closures, said if demand is the driving factor then UMass Memorial should be opening more psychiatric beds, not closing some. 

“This unit is nearly always full, while at the same time, the medical floors at both UMass University and Memorial campuses are overburdened with psychiatric patients awaiting a bed on 8 East,” Goss said. “Often, psychiatric patients end up in a medical bed because our emergency departments are also overburdened with these patients waiting for a bed on ours or any other psychiatric unit in the state … ultimately all of our patients suffer with inadequate and unsafe care because there are not enough psychiatric beds available.” 

And the claim that patients would be accepted in other locations, such as the Devens facility cited by UMass Memorial, is problematic, advocates said. For one thing, many patients have medical problems in addition to mental issues, and having a bed in a hospital that can handle both is a necessity, they said. Goss and others also questioned whether some of the other facilities would admit patients with other medical problems, or patients on MassHealth plans. 

Rivera’s order had asked the city manager for a report on the impact of the bed closure, should it go through. At the suggestion of At-Large Councilor Moe Bergman, the body took a vote on a resolution taking a stand against the closure, although councilors also expressed hope the hospital would at least wait until the report was done to make a final decision. Mayor Joe Petty joined a few of his colleagues in taking a big-picture view of the problem as well.

“This is not just UMass’ issue,” Petty said. “This is a statewide issue. UMass is a symptom of the whole industry …. UMass has been a great partner with the city of Worcester. Our public health department could not do what it does without UMass. But that being said, I would like to ask UMass to reconsider this … this is bigger than just closing 13 beds. This has a huge impact in the short term.”

While the city cannot directly control UMass Memorial’s decision, MNA and others are urging supporters to attend a state Department of Public Health hearing on March 30 in Worcester that will review the proposal.

Worcester Council opposes plan to close UMass Memorial psychiatric beds

By Nick Kotsopoulos
Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER – The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night opposing UMass Memorial Medical Center’s plans to close nearly half the inpatient psychiatric beds at its University Campus.

The council also asked the hospital not to proceed with its plans until the city administration can evaluate what impact the closing would have on the city.

With such a reduction in the number of psychiatric beds, some city councilors fear it could place a burden on the Police Department and the city’s Quality of Life Task Force, as well as lead to an increase in homeless encampments throughout the city because those in need of such services would have nowhere to go.

"We want to be a City Council that says this is unacceptable," said District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera, who introduced the order that sparked the discussion. "We should not abandon our mentally ill in this community. Closing almost half the (inpatient psychiatric) beds is very concerning."

In January, management at UMass Memorial Medical Center announced plans to close 13 of the 28 psychiatric beds on 8 East – the busy inpatient psychiatric unit at the University Campus – and convert those beds to medical surgical beds.

The planned closing is opposed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents nurses at UMass Memorial Medical Center, and mental health advocates, including the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Sandy Ellis, a lifelong city resident and psychiatric nurse for more than 25 years, appealed to the City Council on behalf of opponents of the closure plan to join their cause because of the gravity of the situation.

She acknowledged that the city has no legal authority to prevent the closure. She said while UMass Memorial can pretty much do whatever it wants, the public needs to be made aware of the situation and the potential impact.

She said the UMass Memorial plan would turn away psychiatric patients, whose care comes with lower reimbursement rate than medical patients, to allow an increase in admissions of medical patients to boost the hospital’s profits.

"We hope that you will join us in demanding that UMass Memorial keep these beds open," said Ms. Ellis, who is also a community organizer with MNA. "UMass management is proposing this callous and dangerous plan at a time when there is a critical and growing shortage of mental health beds in the commonwealth. A recent report by the state’s Mental Health Advisory Committee found more than 40,000 patients a year are boarding in our state’s hospital emergency departments, many for days or even weeks waiting for treatment."

Lisa Goss, a psychiatric nurse who has worked on 8 East at UMass Memorial’s University Campus for 12 years, said the psychiatric unit is nearly always full, while at the same time medical floors at both the University and Memorial campuses are overburdened with psychiatric patients waiting for a bed on 8 East.

"Often psychiatric patients end up in a medical bed because our emergency departments are also overburdened with these patients waiting for a bed on ours or any other psychiatric unit in the state."

Tony Berry, senior director of media and public relations for UMass Memorial Health Care, said the decision to close nearly half of the psychiatric beds at the University Campus was made after the leadership team spent nearly two years of thoughtful planning, research and analysis.

He said the UMass Memorial Medical Center is convinced that the plan is not only the best course of action, but is also the right thing to do.

"These changes address critical hospital capacity issues and are in the best interest of our behavioral health and medical/surgical patients," Mr. Berry said.

City councilors were quick to support the call to oppose the bed closings.

"We have a need for more beds, not cutting beds; that’s the reality," said Councilor-at-Large Kathleen M. Toomey. "It’s all about dollars."

Councilor-at-Large Khrystian E. King said it is important for the City Council to send a message to UMass Memorial not to proceed with its bed-closing plan until the city has had an opportunity to assess its impact on the local community.

"As a City Council, it’s our duty to stand up for this population," Mr. King said.

Councilor-at-Large Morris A. Bergman suggested that the council adopt a resolution opposing the closings.

"We don’t need to wait for a report from the city manager to know that closing 13 (psychiatric) beds is a bad idea," Mr. Bergman said. "The only way this battle can be won is in the court of public opinion. We need a vote that is more than just asking for a report."

The state Department of Public Health is scheduled to hold a public hearing in the city on March 30 to determine if the psychiatric beds in question are an essential service that should be maintained.