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April 18, 2017

DPH: UMass Memorial psych beds are necessary

Grant Welker UMass Memorial Health Care has proposed closing 13 inpatient psychiatric beds in its university campus.

The state public health agency this week said the 13 psychiatric beds UMass Memorial Health Care hoped to discontinue this summer are in fact necessary, and if the health care network wants to close them, it has to prove that access won’t suffer.

In a letter to UMass Memorial earlier this week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health ordered the Worcester healthcare provider to submit a plan with information about how the closing could affect the community, including current utilization of the beds, information about alternative sites, and transportation times and needs.

Earlier this year, UMass Memorial proposed closing 13 of 28 psychiatric beds in the 8 East Unit at UMass Memorial Medical Center, in favor of more medical-surgical beds. Last week, the medical group announced plans to build a new 120-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital in Worcester that would open in 2019.

UMass Memorial spokesman Anthony Berry said that the healthcare network’s response will emphasize the psychiatric beds set to open in the region, including 16 through Harrington HealthCare in Webster, 102 beds at TaraVista at Devens in Ayer which has 14 beds reserved for UMass Memorial, and 150 new beds in Westborough. UMass Memorial President and CEO Eric Dickson wrote about the issue on his blog, Everyday Innovators. 

UMass Memorial has 14 days to respond to DPH. 

“We respect and appreciate the important feedback provided by the public during this essential services process and remain committed to caring for the healthcare needs of all those in our region,” Berry said in a statement.

According to a press release from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which opposed the bed closures, DPH based its findings partly on testimony from a public hearing in March, where several mental health advocates, caregivers, former patients, elected officials and community members expressed concern that eliminating the beds could cause problems.

The nurses association said the psychiatric unit is nearly always full and some patients have to stay in the emergency department for days while they wait for services.

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