Ellis is closing the inpatient juvenile psychiatric unit

SCHENCTADY — Ellis Hospital is temporarily closing its inpatient juvenile psychiatric unit, citing a staff shortage that is making it difficult to keep it staffed around the clock.

The closure could take months, but Ellis officials said they are recruiting to fill positions for the unit. The lockdown begins on Monday.

“We have made the difficult but necessary decision following ongoing staffing constraints due to local and national healthcare staffing shortages that will limit our ability to safely staff this unit 24/7 in the coming months,” the hospital said in an opinion. “Ellis Medicine is committed to restoring inpatient mental health services to adolescents over the coming months.”

The unit looks after six to seven children a day.

The hospital informed staff late Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health responded with a press release offering to help people find care while the unit is closed.

Coalition President and CEO Andrea Smyth urged people to call a mobile mental health crisis unit.

“It’s not necessarily the ER that’s the best place,” she said. “In many cases, the mobile health teams can de-escalate the situation and come up with a plan of what to do next… If it can happen to the child at home, it’s much better for them than waiting in the emergency room for hours or days.” “

Northern Rivers has a mobile crisis response team that can be called at 518-292-5499. It serves Rensselaer County, Saratoga County, Schenectady County, Warren County, and Washington County, as well as children and youth in Albany County. For an adult needing crisis mental health care in Albany County, call the Albany County Mental Health Center Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549-6500.

When crisis teams are unavailable, they refer families to the emergency room. That can change now. Albany Medical Center also does not have an inpatient pediatric mental health unit.

Ellis will continue to operate all of the outpatient mental health services at Ellis Health Center at 1023 State St., including the newly expanded children and youth services and the 24/7 mental health emergency line. For this line, call 518-243-4000 and ask for a crisis responder.

But forgoing inpatient care will impact some families. Those who have commercial health insurance typically don’t have inpatient treatment center coverage, but do have hospital coverage, Smyth said.

“That’s why it hurts to close hospital beds because commercial insurance covers that,” she said.

About one-third of children in the state are commercially insured, usually through the work of a parent. Another third has Medicaid covering treatment centers. The other third is accounted for by programs like Child Health Plus, which will begin covering such centers later this year.

“The new law expanded it, but it’s not in effect yet,” Smyth said.

An alternative to 911 is also in the works. Families with a mental health crisis will be able to dial 988 from July 1.

“The governor’s budget included significant funds – instead of having to call 911 and involve law enforcement in cases where it’s not necessary,” Smyth said. “But that’s only July 1st.”

The NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health is pushing for two changes that could improve the situation. They want the state to pass legislation that would allow licensed mental health providers to diagnose and develop treatment plans, a role currently limited to psychiatrists and social workers. That would add about 10,200 providers to help children during the current adolescent mental health crisis, with about a thousand more graduating each year.

“They have a master’s degree and take diagnostic classes,” Smyth said. “This bill could address the problem” with staffing.

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