By JOSEPH BEDNAR
It’s a long-standing problem that’s not improving, Spiros Hatiras says. So Holyoke Medical Center (HMC) is building a solution.
“We started thinking about what to do with our behavioral-health space two or three years ago,” said Hatiras, president and CEO of HMC and Valley Health Systems. “We often find ourselves looking for a bed, and having to board them in the ED. It’s been tough at times to find a bed.”
Holyoke Medical Center’s leadership team, recognizing the increased need for behavioral-health inpatient beds in Western Mass., has been trying for some time to identify a way to address this need. The result of this process is a proposal for a new, standalone inpatient behavioral-health facility on the HMC campus.
“We tried a few iterations, but couldn’t fit something in the hospital,” Hatiras noted. “We thought about recommissioning different floors, but couldn’t come up with a way to increase capacity. Then, about a year ago, we started thinking about adding a building.”
The current inpatient behavioral-health unit at the hospital has a capacity of 20 beds. The proposed new facility would bring that total to around 100 beds. It is designed, Hatiras said, to provide best-in-class care in a purpose-built facility specifically tailored to accommodate the needs of behavioral-health patients with all of the modern requirements, including secure outdoor space.
Last September, HMC partnered with Signet Health Corp. to assist the hospital in the delivery of behavioral-health services by providing management and consulting services.
“We started talking to Signet years ago, and we came to an agreement in September,” Hatiras said. “Basically, Signet is acting in a consulting role and helping us manage the psychiatric services.”
“We’re going to have capacity issues, so we’re going to ask for the state to be expeditious with approvals.”
A letter of intent has also been signed with the Leo Brown Group, a full-service healthcare real-estate development and solutions company, to design and build the facility, he noted. Holyoke Medical Center has identified a suitable location on the main hospital campus for the proposed building.
HMC’s announcement came at the same time Mercy Medical Center announced it will discontinue inpatient psychiatric services at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke — including adult, geriatric, and pediatric services — on June 30.
The decision is partly driven by serious psychiatrist shortages that will prevent its future ability to provide safe, quality care. While licensed for 74 inpatient psychiatry beds, Providence has regularly operated at fewer than 60 beds over the past two years due to persistent provider shortages that have now become critical.
Conversations between Holyoke Medical Center and state-level stakeholders, including the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, will begin shortly and continue in the following weeks as HMC seeks to obtain local and state approvals to move forward with the project.
“We may be looking to legislative assistance in some way with our project, including helping us expedite the approval process,” Hatiras said. “Obviously, the urgency is much greater given that Mercy announced they’re closing those beds down. In the period between those beds going down and us coming online, it’s going to be hard. We’re going to have capacity issues, so we’re going to ask for the state to be expeditious with approvals — and also potentially help us a little with the development of the site. We’ll certainly have a capital campaign as well.”
Once approved, the new facility is expected to take 18 months to complete and become operational.
For the past six years, Hatiras added, Holyoke Medical Center has been growing and expanding services through recruitment and retention of doctors and advanced-practice providers, and the proposed project is aligned with the mission of the health system.
“Holyoke Medical Center is eager to have conversations at the state level to expand the much-needed behavioral-health bed capacity in Western Massachusetts,” he said. “This proposal is fully in line with the Commonwealth’s goal to increase investment in behavioral-health services.”
The capacity issue in behavioral health is hardly limited to Western Mass., Hatiras told HCN. “It has been an issue across the state. We’ve also identified a need for additional geriatric [behavioral-health] beds. Around the state, those are in short supply.”
As a result, Gov. Baker has issued a challenge for the state and its healthcare system to develop more capacity in this realm and invest more in behavioral health in general.
As for the impending closing of beds at Providence, collaborative planning is underway to help patients access timely psychiatric care and to help employees transition to new opportunities, including a comprehensive job-placement program.
Substance-use-disorder services will continue at Providence, including the Acute Treatment Service (detoxification), Clinical Stabilization Service (post-detoxification), and outpatient substance-use disorder services, with an intensive outpatient program and a methadone clinic.
After the opening of two new methadone clinics in Springfield, Mercy will also consolidate its methadone clinic on Mill Street in Springfield into its methadone clinic in Holyoke by June 30. All patients will have individual meetings to ensure a smooth transition of care.
That said, Hatiras thinks HMC’s plan is a timely one. “With the beds coming offline in Holyoke, bringing beds back online in the same area will work very nicely.”