The Department of Public Health conditionally approved UMass Memorial Medical Center’s plan to eliminate 13 of 27 inpatient psychiatry beds as part of a $30 million renovation project designed to increase the number of medical/surgical beds instead.
In late April, hospital officials responded to a DPH request to outline how it would accommodate the region’s psychiatric patients following the bed reduction. In an 11-page letter, they described how they would address concerns about other facility options, patient insurance and transportation to alternate sites.
UMMC CEO and President Eric Dickson has said that the remaining 14 beds in the “8 East,” wing of the university campus would be devoted to patients with both medical and psychiatric problems.
Although the unit is typically 90 to 98 percent full, about 70 percent of those patients do not need medical care.
Dickson, who is a medical doctor, said that as the region’s only major trauma center, UMass Medical Center is in dire need of more surgical beds.
Officials pointed to 275 psychiatric beds at alternate sites, either available or soon to be open and estimated an average of 1.2 patients per day (or 431 per year) would be referred to the other locations.
Those locations are:
* TaraVista Behavioral Health Care Center in Devens (108 licensed beds at full occupancy; 54 expected available in June )
* Harrington Hospital in Southbridge and Webster (30 beds between the two. Harrington and UMMC have a new affiliation agreement).
* Westboro Behavioral Healthcare Hospital (152 beds, admissions scheduled to begin in August)
In addition, UMMC operates a 26-bed Psychiatric Treatment and Recovery Center.
Harrington Hospital has a new chemical dependency unit in Webster that also admits patients in need of psychiatric services other than substance use issues.
As an acute care hospital, Harrington will be able to care for psychiatric patients who also have physical issues, according to UMMC’s letter to DPH.
The proposal for bed closure has met with opposition from family and community members, the Worcester City Council, Massachusetts Nurses Association, The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and others.
Opponents maintain that family members do not have the means to travel to Devens, for example, and public transportation is limited.
The DPH accepted the solutions pitched by UMMC which include operating a twice-daily shuttle for six months to and from the center that will stop at the TaraVista, Harrington and Westboro sites. Passengers will be charged a fee comparable to public transit. At the end of the six months, the transportation program will be re-evaluated.
There was also concern about whether the other sites would accept the same patient insurance including Medicare/MassHealth.
UMMC has agreed to give priority status for admission to its medical center for patients requiring free care. It will also treat patients without insurance.
“As a result, the Medical Center does not believe its closure of beds will strain capacity in the region,” the letter reads.
Another condition is that the center report quarterly on boarding of patients in the emergency room while they await admission to an inpatient bed.
Ann Scales, from the media relations department at the DPH commissioner’s office noted that when the 13 inpatient beds are discontinued, “the department will monitor the actions both proposed and taken by the hospital to ensure that patients are provided with safe and appropriate care.”
According to UMMC officials, there is no timeline as to when the beds will close and all hospital workers must be notified according to contract requirements.
UMMC Spokesperson Anthony Berry added, “ We continue to work through the regulatory process with the Department of Public Health to ensure our plan meets the healthcare needs of the people of central Massachusetts.”
By Susan Gonsalves