Plan to close Inwood psychiatric unit sparks fear among Allen Hospital doctors, staff

New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Inwood treats about 600 psychiatric patients annually, and currently only has 30 psychiatric beds on offer.
New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Inwood treats about 600 psychiatric patients annually, and currently only has 30 psychiatric beds on offer. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Inwood medical professionals, residents and elected officials have been scrambling over the last few weeks to put the brakes on a proposal they say would push the community’s already fragile mental health care services past the point of no return.

New York Presbyterian filed an application with the New York State Department of Health in late December to decertify the remaining 30 psychiatric beds on the third floor at Allen Hospital to make way for the expansion of other units such as prenatal care and spinal surgery. Administrators say they plan to offer psychiatric services at outpatient locations outside of the neighborhood for the time being, and promise to create similar centers in the near future.

A source close with the hospital said its doctors and other staff were surprised by the announcement. Many are worried the alternative options would hurt their most vulnerable patients, many of whom live in the neighborhood.

“They are so severely depressed they have attempted suicide, they have schizophrenia and are a danger to themselves and others. To take away [the beds] would be devastating,” the source said.

Shah Ally, chairperson of Manhattan Community Board 12, agreed. Last month, the board voted 34-0 on a resolution opposing New York Presbyterian’s proposal, noting that the Allen Hospital already has eliminated 104 beds from the facility over the years, the majority of which were psychiatric beds.

That reduction has already sent the wrong message to residents with psychiatric issues, according to Ally.

“If you’re someone who is in psychiatric distress and you tell them you have to go find their treatment elsewhere, that’s harsh,” he said.

Data from the state health department found that the number of monthly adult psychiatric inpatient admissions in New York remained relatively stable at around 6,500 between 2014 and 2016, however the number of state-licensed inpatient beds has steadily dropped by 109 during that time period. The agency could not provide information on the data for New York City admissions or beds, however, Ally said Allen Hospital’s psych ward is used by 600 patients annually.

A representative for the state health department said it is still reviewing the application to decertify the psych beds and approve the nearly $69 million expansion of the other wings at Allen Hospital, which opened in 1988.

In a statement, New York Presbyterian said it understands the concerns brought forward by the community, but reiterated that it is increasing its outpatient services throughout the city and those services are as beneficial as the hospital’s beds.

“The need for outpatient care has increased in recent years: people are more willing to access mental health resources; inpatient stays are shorter; and outpatient care decreases the likelihood of an inpatient admission,” it said in a statement.

Those reassurances aren’t sitting well with the Allen Hospital medical staff, especially among the 55 psychiatric professionals working on the floor, the source said. The closest operating psych centers are located in Randall’s Island and Putnam County, which would require a long trip by the patient, especially if they didn’t have a car, according to the source.

The source added the additional distance and travel time would hinder the opportunities for patients’ families to visit them during their treatment.

“It helps with their transition out of hospitalization to have those family members there while they are receiving treatment,” the source said.

Matt Kudish, the executive director of the New York City office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said New York Presbyterian’s plan for more outpatient psych services is a good step forward in providing New Yorkers better health care services, but they are not a true alternative to the hospital’s ward.

“If you find yourself in a crisis and need round the clock care, a hospital would be the only place you would find support,” he said.

Kudish added that New York Presbyterian should have set up its Inwood outpatient centers long before making its request to the state. He said the large calls by the community would increase the chances those beds are saved, and encourage more people to speak out.

Those voices already have the support of Inwood’s elected officials. A coalition of city, state, and federal members, such as City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, state Sen. Marisol Alacantra, and U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat have all spoken out against the proposal and have pleaded with both the hospital and state to reverse course.

“We should be strengthening and empowering the community served by Allen Hospital as they seek the attention they very much need. We must come to the negotiation and find a solution that will benefit all and improve the surrounding community,” Rodriguez said in a statement.