Allen Hospital doctors, nurses protest plans to shutter psych ward

Doctors, nurses and staff members rally outside NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital to proteste the planned shuttering of the hospital's psychiatric ward on Wednesday, June 13, 2018.
Doctors, nurses and staff members rally outside NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital to proteste the planned shuttering of the hospital’s psychiatric ward on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo

Nearly three dozen doctors, nurses and their supporters gathered outside Allen Hospital in the pouring rain Thursday and pleaded with the state to shore up its psychiatric ward’s future.

Armed with posters and a megaphone, the crowd said the 30 psychiatric beds that NewYork-Presbyterian health care network plans to close are a critical lifeline for mentally ill residents of northern Manhattan.

“My patients need this resource. They benefit from this resource,” said Dr. Beth Barron, a physician at Allen Hospital. “It would be an absolute tragedy to lose this resource.”

If the state approves its plan, Presbyterian has said it would open new outpatient psychiatric offices in Inwood. But without concrete plans for these services, Allen Hospital staffers said that local residents, including those on the verge of suicide, could be left in a limbo.

“The people’s interests are not being addressed,” said Raelynn Price, a registered nurse at Allen Hospital.

A state Department of Health representative said the agency is still reviewing an application Presbyterian filed in December to spend $69 million converting Allen Hospital’s psychiatric ward into space for prenatal care and spinal surgery.

A spokeswoman for Presbyterian said the network believes it can work with elected officials and the community to prepare for what it believes will be a positive transition.

“The proposed changes to our behavioral health inpatient unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital would allow us to centralize and strengthen care across NewYork-Presbyterian facilities,” the network said in a statement. “We will continue to work with our local community, including social service providers, on these important issues.”

There is no reason to change the current model in Inwood, according to Matt Kudish, the executive director of the New York City branch of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Citywide, there are not enough psychiatric beds in hospitals to meet demand, according to mental health advocates. Assuming there are opening beds at Columbia University Medical Center, the next closest inpatient psychiatric center, patients and their families may be too overwhelmed to make the nearly three-mile trek from Inwood, Kudish said.

“They don’t have to travel to get the help they need, and their families don’t have to travel to support them,” Kudish said.

The Inwood community has spent months fighting the proposed closure. The local community board voted 34-0 to draft a resolution opposing Presbyterian’s plan. U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat and several other elected officials sent a letter to Steven Corwin, Presbyterian’s president, urging him to reconsider the conversion.

There are some signs the protesting has paid off, according to Anthony Ciampa, the vice president of the New York State Nurses Association, which helped coordinate Thursday’s rally. Ciampa said Allen Hospital administrators have pushed back the planned closure from this summer to 2019.

“We will not give up,” Ciampa said. “There is a lot we can do.”