DPH finds psychiatric beds at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital ‘necessary’

  • Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke.  SCREENSHOT/GOOGLE MAPS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2020 6:48:54 PM

HOLYOKE — State health officials on Friday deemed 74 psychiatric beds at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital as “necessary” area services and some workers at the hospital say they hope the finding will halt the facility’s original plans to shutter those beds come the summer.

The state Department of Public Health’s May 15 finding comes after a virtual public meeting on April 30 in which various members of the public advocated to keep 74 inpatient child and adult psychiatric beds at the Holyoke hospital open. The DPH said Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, of which Providence is an affiliate, must prepare a plan showing how it will maintain access inpatient psychiatric and pediatric beds after its proposed closure, among other elements it must address, within 15 days.

“As a result of its review, including testimony presented at the hearing, the Department has made a finding that the services provided by the Hospital are in fact necessary for preserving access and health status within the Hospital’s service area,” the finding states.

Mercy Medical Center is operated by the Michigan-based Catholic nonprofit Trinity Health. Trinity announced plans earlier this year to discontinue inpatient psychiatric services at the Holyoke hospital by July 1, which would lead to some 200 job losses. DPH cannot require the hospital to continue operating these services indefinitely, though it must develop and submit its plan.

Union pushback

The plans have received pushback from one of the unions representing counselors, clinicians and aides at the hospital, United Auto Workers Local 2322, as well as the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which staged a protest earlier this month outside of Mercy Medical Center.

Officials at Mercy Medical Center have argued that the closure is the result of a general shortage of psychiatrists. In its finding, DPH compelled the hospital to describe steps taken within the past year to fill vacant psychiatrist positions.

“The response from the Massachusetts DPH is one we anticipated,” Mercy Medical Center said in a statement. “We have engaged in considerable collaborative planning — which continues and will be ongoing — to help patients access timely care after the discontinuation of inpatient psychiatric services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital. We will provide our plan to the DPH by the deadline.”

Cindy Chaplin, a registered nurse at Providence and a chairwoman of the MNA’s Providence bargaining committee, said Tuesday she was “thrilled” that DPH considered the psychiatric services as essential, but noted there was still much left up in the air.

“I’m hoping that they can’t come up with a plan for every little thing and maybe DPH says, ‘You really cannot close,’” Chaplin said. “That’s a slim hope, but it is hope. I think it’s hope for our patients, especially.”

Michelle Reardon, vice president of UAW Local 2322 and a recovery specialist at Providence, said after being read Mercy Medical Center’s statement that it sounded like the hospital was still planning on discontinuing its services, though earlier she said she hoped the hospital would reverse its decision to eliminate the beds.

“That’s not surprising, but it is disheartening,” Reardon said. “We come in here every day and we care a lot about our patients. And it would be nice to feel like the people making the decisions also care.”

Focus on services

Reardon said the finding will force Providence Behavioral Health Hospital to give detailed plans as to what services will be there for patients if it follows through with its closure instead of the generalities she said have been offered by the hospital in the past. She said Holyoke is an underserved community, and Trinity Health should be focused on providing services in the area rather than its profit margin.

“I would really like Trinity to live up to its mission and be a healing presence in the community — and that’s every community,” she said, referencing the health care provider’s mission statement.

Nicole Desnoyers, of Springfield, testified at the DPH meeting and said she believed the state listened to her concerns specifically, as the hospital is now required to address transportation issues to potential alternate treatment facilities as well as whether out-of-state hospitals will accept MassHealth insurance plans.

She said her 10-year-old son had been “pushed all across the state” after being denied a bed at the hospital last year due to what she said was a lack of staffing, at one point being brought to a facility far away to which Desnoyers couldn’t find transportation.

She said Providence closing its beds means she might have to go to Connecticut or Vermont for the level of psychiatric services her son needs, but that she doesn’t know if they take her MassHealth insurance.

“Mental health just doesn’t go away — my son doesn’t just wake up and feel better and never need these services again,” she said. “And as a resident of this community, I feel we should have what we need. I should not have to go two hours away to get him help.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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