DPH requiring St. V to hold public hearings on or reopen inpatient mental health beds

Ken LeBlanc of Clinton walks alongside his wife Carla on the picket line. St. Vincent's strike continues into its eighth month Nov. 7.
Ken LeBlanc of Clinton walks alongside his wife Carla on the picket line. St. Vincent's strike continues into its eighth month Nov. 7.

WORCESTER - The state Department of Public Health is requiring St. Vincent Hospital to either hold public hearings regarding the closure of its inpatient mental health beds or to reopen the beds, ruling that the beds constitute an “essential service” to the area.

“Although the Hospital has asserted that the closure of these beds is temporary due to the ongoing nursing strike, these beds have been closed for more than three months,” Health and Human Services Acting Commissioner Margret R. Cooke said in a letter to St. Vincent Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson on Tuesday.

“The Department has repeatedly requested that the Hospital provide a date certain for the inpatient behavioral health beds reopening and the Hospital has failed to provide one. In our most recent call, you clearly stated there is no plan in place to reopen the beds. Therefore, at this time, the Department requires that the Hospital begin the essential services process for the closure of the Hospital’s inpatient behavioral health services or immediately plan to reopen these essential services.”

Change in service

An essential service is a service defined in statute that a hospital is licensed to provide. When a hospital decides to stop providing such services, it must meet several requirements. These include holding a public hearing and submitting plans to the state on how the services will continue to be provided to the community after the closure.

This process, “provides a mechanism for the Department of Public Health to review a proposed closure or reduction in services and to ensure that measures have been put in place to minimize the impact on the community and address concerns that have been brought to DPH’s attention,” according to the state.

The concerns of the state in this case focus on St. Vincent’s behavioral health beds.

According to the letter from the state, the hospital notified officials of its intention to reduce inpatient behavioral health beds from 20 to 10 beds Aug, 2. Ten days later, the state was informed that the hospital intended to close its remaining behavioral health beds Aug. 16.

The closures were part of a larger reduction in services at the hospital which has resulted in approximately 100 beds offline. State Reps. David LeBoeuf and Mary Keefe have written letters to the state asking for the essential services process to begin in reference to all the closed beds at St. Vincent.

The hospital maintained that the behavioral health bed closings were temporary and that they would be reopening as soon as possible and no later then after the end of the Massachusetts Nurses Association strike. The state said, “the hospital anticipated (the strike) would be less than six months.”

Strike nears nine months

The strike will surpass the nine-month mark Dec. 8.

The hospital’s plan also changed, according to the state.

“On October 6, 2021, the Hospital informed the Department that instead of prioritizing reopening the behavioral health beds, their focus had shifted to maximizing the use of the behavioral health beds at Leonard Morse,” Cooke wrote.

Leonard Morse is a hospital that is part of MetroWest Medical Center and also overseen by Jackson.

“Following that decision, the Hospital has kept the Department informed of the number of individuals who were at the Hospital, requiring behavioral health beds, and were boarding in the Emergency Department and the number of beds available at Leonard Morse,” Cooke’s letter continued. “Further, since August 2021, the Hospital has continuously reported to the Department that there has been no movement to resolve the dispute with the MNA, providing no assurance as to the reopening of this essential service.”

The state gives St. Vincent 10 days “of its intent to submit notice to close the inpatient behavioral health beds,” to begin the essential services process.

A St. Vincent Hospital spokesman declined to comment.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Department of Public Health St. Vincent Hospital Margret R. Cooke