Sunday, May 26, 2024

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