June 15, 2017

State approves UMass psychiatric bed reductions

UMass Memorial will convert about half of its psychiatric beds into medical/surgical beds following approval from the state public health council.

UMass Memorial Health Care will convert roughly half of its psychiatric beds for medical/surgical use after it received approval from the state public health council on Wednesday for a $30-million renovation plan.

With the approval, the Worcester hospital plans to convert the 13 beds in order to improve its medical/surgical capacity and emergency department boarding.

Since plans to change the beds over were announced earlier this year, state officials, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and community stakeholders have all spoken up against the move, saying shutting down psychiatric beds could hurt access to mental health services in the region.

UMass Memorial responded by saying it would transport patients to Harrington Hospital in Southbridge if it is unable to treat them onsite. The hospital also has a 14-bed agreement with TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in Devens and plans to transport patients there.

UMass Memorial has said it will build an $18 million, 120-bed psychiatric hospital in Worcester likely to open in 2019.

The Massachusetts Public Health Council approved the plan, but with a few amendments. UMass Memorial has to share information on bed usage, placement of patients, diagnoses, race, ethnicity and languages spoken by patients with the state. The healthcare system is required to give priority to patients whose insurance would likely not be accepted elsewhere, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

"This was a difficult decision for our medical center, but we believe it is the right one for the long-term best interests of our patients," said Anthony Berry, a spokesman for UMass Memorial.

The $30-million plan applies to four floors of the University Campus, according to filings with the public health council. It attempts to address long emergency department wait times by adding more medical/surgical beds, creating a nine-bed step-down unit, and an observation unit, and renovating the bone marrow transplant unit, psychiatry, dialysis and cardiac catheterization services.

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