COOPERSTOWN — Coping with a shortage of mental health providers, Bassett Medical Center is taking steps to reduce its 20-bed psychiatric unit to 10 beds effective Dec. 1, hospital officials have confirmed in response to inquires from The Daily Star.
Hospital spokeswoman Karen Huxtable-Hooker said the downsizing of the unit was prompted by what she called a short-term staffing issue.
The hospital will be at 10 psychiatric beds for “the foreseeable future,” she said.
Dr. Celeste Johns, the hospital’s chief of psychiatric, said in an email forwarded to the newspaper by Huxtable-Hooker that “provider shortages are particularly critical in Psychiatrists (MD positions) and Psychiatric RN positions, as well as psychiatric social workers.”
She added: “Psychiatrists are a nationwide shortage specialty, and facilities in Central New York share our difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified psychiatrists.”
Hospital officials acknowledged that financial challenges are intertwined with the shortage of providers specializing in psychiatric services.
“They (providers) are hard to find and using temporary professional staffing is very expensive and reimbursement rates often don’t cover the costs of providing mental health services,: Huxtable-Hooker said. “These issues are also acknowledged by OMH (the state Office of Mental Health) and DOH (the state Department of Health.)
Bassett cut the number of psychiatric beds to 10 for one month last summer for the same reason it is moving to do so again, she said.
Johns said the hospital is in conversation with state officials on the “complex issue of maintaining psychiatric services for the region and trying to determine where Bassett fits into the state’s overall solution for mental health.”
The national shortage of hospital psychiatric beds was spotlighted this week in Virginia, when a state senator, Creigh Deeds, was stabbed more than 10 times by his 24-year-old son, who then shot himself.
One day before the attack, the local sheriff took the son to a hospital under an emergency custody order. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the son had to be released because there were no available psychiatric beds at the hospital.
Harvy Rosenthal, executive director of the Albany-based New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, a group that advocates for the needs of New Yorkers with mental illness, said he hopes Bassett “explores all possible strategies” for keeping the psychiatric beds available.
The hospital, Rosenthal added, could also lessen the potential negative consequences for psychiatric patients by strengthening the services it offers to outpatients that the psychiatric unit treats. By doing so, he said, it could avoid “leaving a huge gap in what’s available to people in that area.”
Said Huxtable-Hooker: “We are looking to strengthen and expand outpatient services whatever the final inpatient solution, and OMH is aware of this.”
The Bassett officials said the plan to reduce the number of psychiatric beds at the private not-for profit medical center in Cooperstown is unrelated to the state’s ongoing reorganization of state-operated psychiatric hospitals.
That consolidation effort is part of the state Centers for Excellence Program. The consolidation plan would be phased in over three years, and what are now 24 state run psychiatric hospitals would be reduced to 15 regional centers . Among the hospitals that would be affected are Greater Binghamton Psychiatric Center, Elmira Psychiatric Center, Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center in Utica and Hutchings Psychiatric Center in Syracuse.
Rosenthal estimated that there are between 600,000 and 700,000 New Yorkers coping with varying degrees of mental illness. Of that group, about 140,000 people have “the most serious needs,” he said.