Billion-dollar corporation Trinity Health seeks to close 74 psychiatric beds in Holyoke during an ongoing mental health crisis and global pandemic
HOLYOKE, Mass. – The state Department of Public Health has found 74 child and adult mental health beds at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital are “necessary for preserving access and health,” and that owner Trinity Health must prepare a plan showing how it will maintain access to inpatient psychiatric and pediatric services, and reveal information about how it sought psychiatrists before deciding to close beds.
The DPH finding – posted on the state website on May 15 – follows a virtual public meeting in which nurses and healthcare professionals, patients, elected officials and residents advocated to keep the beds open to ensure access to quality, specialized psychiatric treatment. The hospital must submit a response to DPH no later than 15 days after it received the state’s finding. For a PDF of the DPH letter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Department of Public Health recognizes that our child and adult mental health beds are absolutely essential to families across Western Massachusetts,” said Cindy Chaplin, RN at Providence and Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “Hospital management is capping our census while patients wait for days in the emergency department. Demand for these essential services is immense.
“At this point, the overwhelming consensus is these beds must be preserved to ensure access to quality inpatient psychiatric care,” Chaplin said. “Trinity Health executives and board members are the outliers, and our coalition of nurses, healthcare workers, patients, families and elected officials will not stop until our communities have the services we deserve.”
“When my family had to navigate the difficult and at-times dangerous child mental health system earlier this year, the pediatric beds at Providence Hospital were a bright spot that helped my daughter feel safe and receive the treatment she needed,” said Northampton resident Jamie Guerin, who has helped organize a group of Providence Hospital families against the closure. “No child should have to wait days in an emergency department for psychiatric care. Closing these beds will make a grueling experience for families nearly impossible.”
Among those who joined in writing to the DPH in opposition to the closing was NAMI Mass, the state’s leading advocacy group for patients and families struggling with behavioral health conditions, which submitted testimony stating, in part:
“This part of our state is already severely underserved with respect to behavioral health services, most particularly in-patient options. For children, Providence is currently the only beds available in Western Massachusetts. We already know that boarding in emergency departments for children can stretch into weeks with an undue burden on the child and their family. We should not be entertaining closing facilities; we need to be addressing the underlying financial issues that lead hospitals and providers to propose these closures,” NAMI Mass. wrote in its DPH testimony.
“If we allow the closure of this facility, once again the burden of finding care is made more difficult for patients and their families and erects additional barriers that are unfair and discriminatory exactly when those individuals and families are in crisis. Even if suitable care could be provided to the individual, how do we imagine that family members, friends and caregivers can routinely travel long distances to visit and provide support? A key component of improving health outcomes is the participation of family members and loved ones in the care. The quality of care and outcomes will be impacted.”
Mental health is public health and the closure of these services would have a devastating impact on our communities. The lack of quality inpatient mental health services and the impact of that shortage on patients, their families and communities has been widely documented. The child psychiatric beds in particular are extremely essential. The closest inpatient child mental health services to Providence Hospital are more than an hour drive away in Worcester. There are child and adult patients waiting in emergency departments across Massachusetts for mental health beds like those at Providence, including at Mercy Medical Center.
A large coalition of nurses, healthcare professionals and other advocates held a socially distanced picket outside Mercy Medical Center on May 7 to protest how Trinity Health is treating its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic and its proposed bed closures.
Trinity’s plan would put additional strain on a system facing a public health crisis in COVID-19. Patients should not have to choose between seeking mental healthcare in an emergency department full of potential COVID-19 patients and not receiving care at all.
The way Trinity has responded to COVID-19 has exacerbated the risk associated with closing these beds. Trinity has not provided proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff, has not appropriately isolated COVID-19 positive patients and suspected COVID-19 patients, and has cancelled or laid off staff rather than provide fair redeployment and paid time off protocols. These failures mean that patients receiving inpatient care at Providence could re-enter the community as a result of the closure and spread the virus.
Read more about Trinity’s failure to protect and support staff during the pandemic: https://www.massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/11656
Read more about the issues surrounding Trinity’s proposal to close behavioral health beds and services: https://www.massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/11693
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.