May 17, 2018

Saint Vincent Hospital opening behavioral health unit

Photo/Grant Welker
Hospital officials gather for a ceremonial opening Thursday of Saint Vincent Hospital's new behavioral health unit of its emergency department.

Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester is opening a new behavioral health wing of its emergency department on Monday as it seeks to meet a growing need.

The unit, with eight individual rooms for patients, is the first of its kind at Saint Vincent, which in the past has not had any space devoted for those entering the emergency room in need of mental health treatment. The hospital also has plans to expand its inpatient mental health unit from 13 beds to 20.

"This has been a huge priority," Saint Vincent CEO Jeffrey Welch said after a ceremonial opening of the unit Thursday.

The creation of the unit comes nearly a year after UMass Memorial Health Care received state approval to close its 13 psychiatric beds at its University Campus and convert them to medical/surgical use. UMass said last year it plans a new 120-bed psychiatric hospital costing $18 million to $20 million to open in early 2019. Construction is now underway at 100 Century Drive on the West Boylston line for the facility, which will be run in partnership with the behavioral health firm US HealthVest.

In the meantime, it will transport patients to Harrington Hospital in Southbridge or TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in Devens if it is unable to treat them on-site.

Saint Vincent officials alluded to those and other cuts in mental health treatment capacity in the Worcester area in deciding that it needed to increase its own capacity to treat such patients.

"We serve a lot of under-served patients and vulnerable patients," said Michael Burns, the director of emergency services at Saint Vincent.

Photo/Grant Welker
One of eight single-patient units at Saint Vincent Hospital's new behavioral health unit. The hospital is also planning to expand its inpatient unit from 13 beds to 20.

The hospital's chief of psychiatry, Kenneth Hetzler, said the costly and potentially deadly effects of mental illness often aren't fully appreciated but are widespread. About half of the population will have a diagnoseable mental health illness at some point in their lives, he said.

"We badly needed this space," Hetzler said. "Today, we finally have it."

The unit, which sits across the hall from patient space in the emergency department, was formerly a loading dock and offices. Two of its eight rooms could be converted to general emergency use if needed. All of them were to designed so that security staff could monitor patients and to minimize chances of a patient harming themselves.

"This is a million times better than what we had," Rory St. Pierre, the hospital's emergency department director, said while giving a tour.

The expansion at Saint Vincent also includes additional staff. The hospital has added 4.2 full-time-equivalent nurses and 4.2 full-time-equivalent critical care technicians to help staff the new unit.

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