State reps, senators write to oppose child mental health changes wanted by CHA

The purpose of this letter is to express our deep concern over Cambridge Health Alliance’s decision to consolidate the child and adolescent assessment units for inpatient psychiatric care, which will reduce the number of beds available to youth with mental health issues. As part of this plan, CHA will cease to provide inpatient psychiatric services for children between the ages of 3 and 5. We are deeply concerned that this decision will negatively impact access to health care for children not only in Cambridge and Somerville, but also statewide.

For nearly 20 years, CHA has been one of only a handful of facilities across the commonwealth to provide inpatient psychiatric care to children and adolescents, and is currently the only provider in the eastern part of the state to do so. However, on April 3, CHA announced its plan to reduce the number of inpatient pediatric psychiatric beds from 27 to 16 while also eliminating care for children between the ages of 3 and 5.

Currently, there are only 49 beds statewide dedicated exclusively to serving young children with mental health issues. CHA’ s proposal to eliminate 11 of these beds represents a nearly 25 percent reduction in inpatient pediatric psychiatric care available to children in the commonwealth. While CHA has suggested those no longer able to access care following these changes can turn to Franciscan Hospital for Children or Bay Ridge Hospital, that is not a true option. Franciscan Hospital for Children’s wait list has more than 25 children and Bay Ridge is operating at 98 percent capacity.

Furthermore, it remains unclear whether comparable Boston-area pediatric inpatient units can provide language services commensurate with those provided by CHA, which serves a diverse population, including many non-native English speakers. We are concerned that the same level of mental health care may not be available to these patients if they are turned away due to a lack of beds at CHA.

It has been barely a month since CHA announced this plan, and local and state partners are only beginning to be brought into the conversation. Only by working together can we address the financial concerns that CHA has while still protecting services vital to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. There are options. Through partnerships with hospitals and larger industry organizations such as the Massachusetts Hospital Association, Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans and Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership, CHA can explore collaborative solutions and the arrangements made by other health care providers. For example, Bournewood Hospital in Brookline has addressed the fluctuation in capacity of children’s psychiatric beds by utilizing them for adult patients during off-peak times of the year.

These services are vital to our communities and families. We welcome the opportunity to revisit this proposal with CRA, the Departments of Public and Mental Health and other stakeholders to find a way to preserve these important health and safety services.

Marjorie C. Decker, Tim J. Toomey Jr., Elizabeth Malia, Ellen Story, Carl M. Sciortino Jr., Sean Garballey, Denise Provost, David M. Rogers, state representatives

Anthony Petrucelli, Sal DiDomenico, Patricia D. Jehlen, Kenneth J. Donnelly, Joan B. Lovely, state senators

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One Response to State reps, senators write to oppose child mental health changes wanted by CHA

  1. tattedgirl23

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I just heard about the CAU being closed and would like to offer my sons exp with them. I tried to scroll back to see if you guys posted your article on facebook so i could comment, but no. Please, something needs to be done.

    My Son was 8 1/2 when he spent over a month on the Child Assessment Unit of Cambridge Hospital. This was his 10th hospitalization in a year and a half. Their whole approach to handling patients is different than any other place my son has been. Alot of places are cold and unemotional for lack of a better term. The Drs and staff on the CAU are some of the most caring, knowledgeable professionals we have ever come across. They have a program and immerses children with different therapies and groups but makes it fun for them so they want to engage. They understand that parental involvement and visitation are key in making the process of getting help for dangerous and sometimes life threatening behaviors easier on young kids. I visited my son daily afternoon and was able to stay with him and even cuddle him to have him fall asleep. This is the ONLY place my son has been that has truly encouraged its patients to be kids. To have fun. Also, the Drs and staff were very thorough with trying to pin point exactly what was going on with my son. They do many assessments and have meetings where other members of the child’s team are encouraged to attend. They try to find a solid plan to stop having to hospitalize. In my sons case they were critical in getting him into residential care that he desperately needed. It is a travesty that the CAU will be closing and merged as many key parts of this program will NOT be able to happen with it being 8-18. Massachusetts does not need to lose any more beds for kids. we need more beds!! 7 times we have had to wait for a bed, with having to send my then 4-5 yr old daughter to grandmas house bc my son was hallucinating and trying to actively hurt her while we waited so she could be safe. THIS AFFECTS EVERYONE

    This place would be my first choice to look for a bed if/when Phil would need to be hospitalized again.

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