Members of the nurses union called on New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital to restore two psychiatric facilities caring for 50 patients at a time that were closed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York State Nurses Association say the two wards continue to go unused and empty, eliminating inpatient mental healthcare there for hundreds of patients over the eight-month period. The union was joined by patients and their families, community members and elected officials, outside the hospital on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope seeking to “re-open the units and provide inpatient psychiatric care at the hospital without delay.”
Proponents of restoring the psychiatric facilities say many of those who were suffering from COVID-19, have fears of it, and many of those sheltered in place are suffering from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic. In addition, many of those who are homeless, or are committing crimes in New York City are mentally ill, including nearly 50 percent of those incarcerated may have committed crimes because of untreated mental illness.
Some Methodist psychiatric patients have waited days in the emergency room before often being transported outside NYC and beyond access to families. Others have been admitted to Methodist Medical Surgery floors where they cannot receive the specialized care they need. Some of the tensions created in the emergency room have resulted in assaults on hospital staff, leaders maintain.
“With Methodist Hospital 50 beds closed, it’s created an unsafe environment,” said Irving Campbell, RN, a psychiatric nurse at Methodist. “We’re hearing about increased attacks on our fellow colleagues, ER wait times to transfer the behavioral health patients has increased and we’re seeing them on our non-behavioral health units. Simply put: New York-Presbyterian has ignored the people of Park Slope and the neighboring communities and the community demands that the unit be reopened.”
Borough President Eric Adams echoed those sentiments, saying as a former NYPD police captain, “I saw during my law enforcement days the failed policies of mental health.”
“About 48 percent of those incarcerated are suffering from some form of mental health and when you don’t become more upstream and pro-active, instead of being reactive – these are failed policies,” Adams said. “It is the inefficiencies that will lead to inequalities that leads to injustice. When you close these facilities, men, women and children will instead of receiving the care they deserve – when you close these hospital beds, they stay in their beds and it contributes to the social determinates health that not only do they deal with their mental health illnesses but also the chronic illnesses that come as a result. This fight is crucial – we must reopen these hospital beds and provide the function that they are supposed to provide.”
Councilman Brad Lander said he and other elected officials back the hospital’s efforts to build new hospital buildings, even in the face of some neighborhood opposition.
“My sister-in-law is a psychiatric nurse and talks to me every day about what she is seeing – the need for those services is so clear,” Lander said. “All you have to do is walk around the streets of Brooklyn to see how much mental health need there is. We even feel it in ourselves the level of anxiety and disorder that we are all feeling. You know the need for these psychiatric beds is powerful. It is appalling for NYP to reduce these services in the cover of a pandemic and reduce mental health services.”
Assemblywoman Joanne Simon said there are “not enough psychiatric beds to begin with.”
“We talked about the numbers of people incarcerated because they have mental health illness and we didn’t provide them with the mental health services in the first place so our state prison system has become the chief provider of mental health services,” Simon said. “There is something very wrong with that picture.”
Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus said she is one of the only mental health professionals in the assembly and she knows the problem of not providing proper services.
“What I know for sure is that it is a shame that people turn their backs on people who need psychiatric services during a global pandemic,” Frontus said. “We need to think people over profit. This is an issue of life or death. When we don’t provide the car for people in need, where do we see them? Out on the streets. We see them rummaging through garbage in all sorts of despair, sleeping. I got a picture texted to me that my staff couldn’t get into the office because of an entire group sleeping in front of the door – this is a very serious issue.”
Leaders also took to task Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife Chirlane McCray and the Department of Health for not doing more to increase mental health care in the city and for not pushing the hospital to re-open the psychiatric beds.
In the past, NY Presbyterian has said they needed the additional space for Covid patients and were reducing in-patient psychiatric care. However, since the issue abated in New York City, the hospital has not said whether they will be resuming in-patient psychiatric care.
The hospital issued a statement this afternoon that said:
“To create critically needed ICU capacity to respond to the massive surge in COVID-19 patients earlier this year, it was necessary to transfer psychiatric patients within NewYork-Presbyterian. Our commitment to behavioral health is unwavering and we very much understand the desire to know when inpatient beds at certain hospitals will return. At this time, we are finalizing a plan with regulatory agencies to reopen behavioral health beds across the network, while remaining prepared and flexible for another possible surge of COVID-19.”