Dozens of activists from the New York State Nurses Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness rallied June 30 outside of New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital to protest plans to close the hospital’s psychiatric units at a time when mental-health issues are on the rise.
Staff said that in late April, hospital administrators closed the two psych units, which contain 50 beds, in order to convert them into an ICU unit for COVID patients.
Stays Closed as Fallback
The state has mandated that 30 percent of a hospital’s beds must remain open in case there is a surge of coronavirus patients. Staff at Methodist said that one of the psych units, which has 25 beds, has remained closed in order to fulfill that mandate.
“All the units that were closed for COVID-19 surge patients have since been reopened. The only unit that has not been reopened is the psych unit,” said Allyson Selby, a Registered Nurse at the hospital.
But on June 22, staff were informed that the hospital’s other psych unit would also be closed for renovations, which were expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete.
“The loss of these 50 beds is nothing less than a tragedy. In my experience, my patients are often already forgotten, already ignored and already feared,” said Brian Moran, a Psychiatric Nurse who works at the hospital.
New York Presbyterian spokeswoman Agata Porter said in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic "has shown that hospital bed flexibility, particularly in expanding vital ICU bed capacity, is essential in order to provide the best possible care to every patient."
"While we currently are maintaining our readiness for a potential future surge here in New York, our commitment to exceptional behavioral health care is unwavering," she stated.
Also Done Elsewhere
The advocates noted that the psych and detox units at Northwell Health’s Syosset Hospital, Westchester Medical System’s Hudson Valley Hospital, New York Presbyterian-Allen in Manhattan and Northwell Health’s Methadone Clinic in Brooklyn have also remained closed.
“We view this to be a direct attack on mental health and access to care for a vulnerable, under-served population that were already dealing with a lot of issues prior to COVID,” said Irving Campbell, a Psychiatric Nurse at the hospital. “We are demanding that entities such as NewYork-Presbyterian, the Westchester Medical System, NYC Health + Hospitals and Northwell do the right thing and do not use the pandemic as a guise to close inpatient psych services, and we’re demanding that these units be reopened when our patients in the community need it the most.”
Joan Rowley, a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, added that several hospitals including New York Presbyterian’s Weill Cornell Hospital have closed their psych units in recent years.
“Many hospitals have disproportionately targeted psychiatric beds for elimination in order to meet the [state] mandate. In many cases, we fear that the beds will be gone for good, as hospitals have long aimed to abolish these beds due to their lack of profitability in relation to other health issues requiring hospitalization,” she said.
Needed Most Now
What especially frustrated the advocates was that mental-health services were being threatened at a time when they were particularly critical. A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of Americans polled reported that the coronavirus pandemic had harmed their mental health, while the state Office of Mental Health’s Emotional Support Helpline has received more than 20,000 calls since it was launched in March.
City Council Member Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope, where Methodist is located, also noted that the police have often been used to deal with people having a mental-health crisis in lieu of psychiatric services. He referred to the 2012 death of Mohamed Bah, a mentally ill man who was shot in his Harlem home after police responded to a 911 call made by his mother seeking an ambulance to transport him to the hospital because he’d been acting strangely that day.
“We’ve got to preserve the psychiatric beds in our hospitals so people like Mohamed, and people who need psychiatric care, can get it in their hospitals so they don’t wind up in our jails or dead,” he said.
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