Holyoke Medical Center puts behavioral health hospital plans ‘on hold’; still plans 34 inpatient psychiatric beds

Holyoke Medical Center is on course to open 34 new inpatient psychiatric beds by May, but has asked the state to “put on hold” its plans announced last year for an 84-bed behavioral health hospital on its campus.

“We were supposed to have a final determination-of-need hearing with the state this week, but we asked instead for the state to put a hold on the project,” said Spiros Hatiras, president and chief executive officer of the medical center and Valley Health Systems.

Hatiras added that, realistically, he “does not see any conceivable way” the larger project can now happen given Wednesday’s announcement about the sale of Providence Behavioral Health Hospital. Health Partners New England, the new owner, is working with the state to resume inpatient psychiatric care for adults and children there.

He also cited Baystate Health’s July announcement that it had selected Kindred Behavioral Health as its partner to build a $43-million, 120-bed behavioral health hospital at the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority site.

If all of the plans were to proceed, it could result in more than 250 psychiatric beds within a two-mile radius. Hatiras said that raises questions of sustainability in terms of needed staffing and annual admissions.

“We are not going to build a third (psychiatric) hospital in the region,” Hatiras said. “This would be adding more than 200 beds in Holyoke with the three (plans) and would require somewhere between 1,100 to 1,200 admissions to keep those beds full.”

Last spring, Hatiras said Holyoke Medical Center discussed creating some “bridge” units to help the state meet a chronic shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds in Western Massachusetts. The shortage of beds was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic while plans for its proposed hospital advanced.

The initial plan was for a nine-bed pediatric unit and 18-bed adult unit. Holyoke Medical then notified the state it would create two units, totaling 34 inpatient psychiatric beds for adults after Baystate Health announced in January plans to temporarily open a 12-bed unit for children and adolescents.

“We pulled out of doing the children’s unit as it makes no sense for both of us to do the same thing,” Hatiras said. Now, he added, Holyoke will focus solely on adult-care units.

“We have 20 beds now, and every day we find ourselves at 20 in terms of how many patients are in the beds,” Hatiras said. “We are always full, and there are always patients waiting in our emergency department and in other emergency departments. Is there a need regionally for more beds? No question.”

One of Holyoke Medical Center’s two new units is being created in its former Birthing Center. The other will be situated on the hospital’s first floor. Hatiras described both as “state-of-the-art.”

“We have a good reputation in behavioral health field,” Hatiras added. “We have already hired about 10 of the 40 physicians, nurses and mental health assistants needed for the new units, and I am fairly confident we are going to do OK.”

Baystate has said it hopes to open its temporary 12-bed unit for adolescents and children by April.

Health Partners New England and GFI Realty, the new owners of what is now MiraVista Behavioral Health Center — formerly the 74-bed Providence Behavioral Health Hospital — has said it hopes to resume inpatient psychiatric services there in April.

Former owner Mercy Medical Center, the Springfield-based component of Trinity Health Of New England, cited staffing issues and low admissions when it closed Providence last June. The closure left Western Massachusetts without any inpatient psychiatric services for children and adolescents.

The fiscal 2021 state budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in December included $10 million to fund creation of inpatient mental health acute care beds, with priority given to beds for children and adolescents in underserved areas of the state. Payments upon completion could be up to $150,000 per new bed, particularly if finished early this year.

Health Partners New England acknowledged that such help was crucial in the decision to acquire Providence Behavioral Health Hospital.

“The commonwealth is helping with start-up funds to help cover the costs of creating new beds,” said Bob LaRochelle, spokesperson for MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.

“For private hospitals like ours, the incentive is $100K per bed opened by April 30th and $80K per bed later in the year. If not for this incentive, we would not have been able to make the purchase of Providence Hospital.”