Concerns around CHA mental health services draw a reply from system’s chief of psychiatry
Cambridge Health Alliance plays a key role in caring for the underserved in our region, and our Department of Psychiatry is a recognized leader in patient care and research. We are working continuously to improve our mental health and addiction services, which have seen surging demand spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, we are partnering with the state to expand inpatient psychiatry access to help address the statewide shortage of beds and the record levels of emergency department boarding. A recent article (“Mental health professionals at CHA sound alarm over departures and waits dangerous to patients,” Oct. 28) misrepresents the ongoing changes in the department and contains several inaccuracies and misleading claims that have been put forth increasingly by former employees and extended voluntary faculty members who are not in current practice at CHA.
Studies show that many Massachusetts residents suffering from mental illness do not get the treatment they need, an issue that is even more pronounced in the communities CHA serves. Treatment options for mental health and substance use care have evolved, and it is essential that we adapt our services to the needs of our patients. In an effort to provide more access and improve our care, we are expanding and diversifying our treatment options with national best practices that are evidence-based (backed by scientific research) and proven to help patients. These changes are in line with the state’s Roadmap for Behavioral Health Reform, which aims to increase access to treatment in Massachusetts. We must serve all of our communities, particularly the most marginalized who traditionally have not accessed our outpatient care.
As part of these improvements, we have consistently and frequently engaged CHA’s entire staff of therapists and psychiatrists to listen to their concerns about staffing, capacity and changes that need to be made. We respect the expertise and insight of our providers and strongly value their contributions to patient care. We have increased provider salaries in line with industry standards, improving our ability to recruit and retain an excellent staff. While there have been a number of departures in psychiatry, including several retirements, these reflect (in no small part) what has come to be described globally as “the Great Resignation” due to the disruptive effects of Covid-19. To date we have filled 85 percent of open positions for therapists and continue to attract applicants, contrary to claims in the article that we are having trouble hiring.
The story also suggests that recent staff departures are causing long patient waitlists when, in fact, the changes we are making are designed to reduce the wait over the long term. Patient access and care continue to be prioritized based on need, and any time providers leave CHA, we work closely with their patients to transition care as best as possible.
The Department of Psychiatry has a long-standing commitment to excellent, research-based care, and I am proud of our staff’s dedication to our patients. I appreciate their continued involvement and support as we work together to help achieve greater access and health equity in our communities, which is the heart of CHA’s mission.
Philip Wang is chief of psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance.