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NEW YORK — State regulators slapped Rochester Regional Health with a $925,000 penalty on Thursday for violating Gov. Kathy Hochul’s order that hospitals reopen hundreds of psychiatric beds taken offline during the pandemic, according to records obtained by POLITICO.
It is the first time a hospital has been fined under Hochul’s directive, which set an April 1 deadline for hospitals across the state to restore 850 inpatient psych beds — or face financial penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.
“We need hospitals to step up and help us address New York’s mental health crisis which is why I fought to pass legislation that toughened the penalties for those that refuse to bring psychiatric beds online,” Hochul said in a statement to POLITICO. “Many hospitals are successfully collaborating with our Office of Mental Health to bring beds back online, but we will not hesitate to hold noncompliant entities accountable.”
The state Office of Mental Health said Rochester Regional Health repeatedly failed to submit a sufficiently detailed plan with a clear timeline for restoring 34 inpatient psych beds that remain offline at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital and Unity Specialty Hospital, both in Rochester.
That includes all 16 of Newark-Wayne’s psych beds and 18 of the 40 psych beds Unity Specialty is certified to operate.
“RRH’s failure to return these beds to operation, despite OMH’s clear directives, constitutes an effective closure of those beds and a termination of services without the required approvals,” the state Office of Mental Health wrote in a letter Thursday to the hospital.
Rochester Regional Health now has 10 days to request an administrative hearing to contest the state’s determinations.
Rochester Regional Health spokesperson Brett Walsh said the health system sent the state a detailed plan on Oct. 16 to bring back the beds, many of which had been offline for decades. He said it would require significant renovation and construction to meet state and federal requirements for safe inpatient psychiatric care.
"We are surprised and discouraged that OMH has apparently ended our discussions by issuing a notice to impose a civil penalty against RRH for, in their judgement, a failure to comply with the terms of our operating certificates," he said in a statement. "RRH strongly disagrees with this conclusion by OMH. Accordingly, RRH will exercise its rights under the law to request a hearing to contest OMH’s determination."
Despite Hochul’s April deadline, just 500 of the 850 offline beds are expected to be up and running by the end of the year.
Hospitals blamed the delay on staffing shortages, inadequate funding and the need to enact suicide precautions in units that were reconfigured during Covid.