August 8, 2018

Behavioral health group says ballot question would force closures

Photo/Grant Welker
Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, which opened in October 2017, has already added new units and will add more, including one for autistic youth.

Nurse staffing mandates called for in a November ballot question would force psychiatric hospitals to shed 1,000 beds because facilities would not be able to find or pay for the additional nurses required under the initiative petition, according to a new behavioral health care industry study.

The Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems said its study shows that passage of Question 1 would increase the "boarding" of mental health patients in hospital emergency rooms and decrease access to recovery services, exacerbating the state's opioid crisis and straining the care system.

"I have been informed by hospital CEOs that the very existence of some of these facilities would be threatened and they likely would have to close them altogether," association Executive Director David Matteodo said in a statement, predicting a 38 percent drop in patient volume if the question passes.

Donna Stern, a veteran psychiatric nurse and chair of the bargaining unit at Bay State Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, said hospitals are profiting in a period of consolidation but are unwilling to adequately invest in behavioral health care.

"It has nothing to do with resources," Stern said. "It has to do with people not committed to allocating resources to people with mental health issues. That's been the case forever."

Stern said there are "more than enough" nurses who would like to be hired in psychiatric nursing positions.

However, Michael Krupa, CEO of TaraVista Behavioral Health Center, said the state is working to open more units that specialize in pediatric mental health, but has facilities have found nurse recruitment to be a challenge. "It has taken us two years to recruit staff, despite the use of sign-on bonuses and recruiting companies for nursing staff. As a result, many facilities cannot make these beds available. If we are further required to meet the mandated nurse-to-patient ratio as proposed in this ballot initiative, we would not be able to provide this critically needed service for these patients," Krupa said.

Kate Norton, spokeswoman for the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care, called the study "a piece of campaign literature to fuel a continued effort by hospital executives to demean nurses and endanger patients with statements about the Patient Safety Act that are blatantly, patently untrue. She said studies show "that patients receive better care and experience fewer preventable complications when safe limits are in place."

The behavioral health association's member facilities have more than 2,000 beds, and admit more than 50,000 patients annually.


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