Providence Hospital plans to shutter psychiatric beds, lay off 200

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

Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2020 11:22:44 PM

HOLYOKE — In a move that will see some 200 employees lose their jobs and a significant reduction in mental health services in the region, Providence Behavioral Health Hospital has announced that it will discontinue inpatient psychiatric services.

The Holyoke-based hospital, which is part of Mercy Medical Center, said Friday that it will end inpatient psychiatric services for children, adults and geriatric patients by June 30. The nonprofit, Catholic health system Trinity Health — based out of Michigan — operates the hospital and will now file its intent to discontinue the services with the state Department of Public Health. Trinity Health has annual operating revenues of $19.3 billion and assets of $27 billion, according to its website.

In a separate action, Mercy Medical Center is also consolidating its methadone clinic on Mill Street in Springfield into its methadone clinic in Holyoke.

A spokesperson for the hospital said that around 200 workers would be affected by the decision to end inpatient psychiatric services, which the hospital said was due to “serious psychiatrist shortages.”

“Collaborative planning is underway to help patients access timely psychiatric care and to help affected colleagues transition to new opportunities, including a comprehensive job placement program,” the hospital said in a statement. “While licensed for 74 inpatient psychiatry beds, Providence Hospital has regularly operated at less than 60 beds over the past two years due to persistent provider shortages that have now become critical.”

The reasoning for the cuts — psychiatrist shortages — has been questioned, however, by one of the unions representing counselors, clinicians and aides at the hospital, United Auto Workers Local 2322.

“Is there a shortage or can we not retain them?” said UAW Local 2322 Vice President Michelle Reardon, who works as a recovery specialist at the hospital. “And if we can’t retain them, why?”

The union had just settled unfair labor practice charges with the hospital and agreed to a new three-year contract days earlier, and Reardon said the hospital never brought up the pending bed closures during those negotiations.

“They had not said that their closure of units was imminent, and I cannot believe that happened overnight,” she said. “That’s disheartening for us. We bargained in good faith.”

Reardon said the cuts have rattled her and her co-workers, and she worries about the effects they will have on mental health services in the area. Providence had already cut the number of pediatric beds in half in 2018.

“Our patients, they have nowhere else to go,” she said. “We’re the only provider in this area, so what’s going to happen to them? Who is going to make sure they’re OK?”

In a statement, state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the proposed shutdown would be disruptive.

“This announcement jeopardizes access to acute psychiatric treatment for children, youth, adults, and elders in western Massachusetts,” Sudders wrote. “Mercy Hospital has not provided an adequate plan to avoid a disruption in psychiatric inpatient services in western Massachusetts. The hospital must comply with the legal 90-day discontinuance notice that will result in a public hearing chaired by the Department of Public Health.”

The state’s nurses union — the Massachusetts Nurses Association, or MNA — also has members affected by the cuts at Providence.

“When everyone else in Massachusetts agrees we should be making it easier for patients to get high-quality mental health care, Trinity is going in the opposite direction,” Cindy Chaplin, a registered nurse at Providence and a chair of the MNA’s Providence bargaining committee, said in a statement. “There are patients — especially children — waiting in emergency departments and hallways all over western Massachusetts who need beds just like the ones Trinity is choosing to shutter.”

The MNA has previously criticized Trinity Health for a lack of transparency, claiming that the company has more than $650 million stored in offshore tax havens. The union has also pushed for legislation on the state level that would make it more difficult for hospitals to eliminate services or to close their doors altogether.

Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, expressed worry about the situation.

“I think I have the concern that everybody has — I’m disappointed, I’m a little bit angry at various parts of the issue,” he said Monday evening. “This is a huge loss for western Massachusetts … It increases the disparities between western Mass. and eastern Mass.”

He’s not yet sure what can be done at the state level but said he intends to talk about it with other western Massachusetts legislators. “We’re on it and we’re going to see what we can do,” he said.

The announced cuts come after Baystate Health announced it would partner with the company US HealthVest to build a behavioral health hospital in Holyoke several miles from Providence. That plan ended, however, after a Seattle Times investigation into US HealthVest found that the company brought to Washington state “a model proven to deliver profits that has routinely failed vulnerable patients.”

On Monday, Holyoke Medical Center announced in a statement that it has plans to propose a new behavioral health hospital with approximately 100 beds.

Staff writer Greta Jochem contributed to this report.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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