GRAND RAPIDS, MI — In West Michigan and beyond, it’s an all-too-common occurrence: Patients suffering from depression or other mental health issues need to be hospitalized at an in-patient psychiatric unit, but there aren’t enough beds available.
Dr. Matthew Biersack, interim president and chief medical officer at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, has seen the issue play out firsthand.
He said his hospital’s 28-bed inpatient psychiatric unit is “at or near capacity every day.” The shortage means some patients experiencing a behavioral health crisis wind up at the emergency room, or have to be treated at a psychiatric hospital elsewhere in the state because there’s not an open bed in Kent County.
“Anyone who’s involved in medical or behavioral health care knows all too well that there’s an incredible need for behavioral health services and in-patient services in particular,” Biersack said.
In an effort to meet that demand, Mercy is partnering with Havenwyck Hospital to build a 60-bed psychiatric hospital near Mercy’s southwest campus in Byron Township. The two health care providers plan to operate the hospital, expected to cost between $21 and $40 million, as a joint venture.
Last week, Mercy and Havenwyck announced that they had received initial approval for a state certificate of need, which is required to build the hospital. Once a final decision is made on the certificate of need, Mercy and Havenwyck would finalize their joint partnership agreement.
Pending final approval, construction of the new hospital would start yet this year, with the facility slated to open in spring 2023, according to a news release.
The proposed two-story hospital would provide another place to care for residents suffering from depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues, and who need to be hospitalized because they are a danger to themselves or others.
Officials with Mercy and Havenwyck and other behavioral health experts say there’s long been a need for more in-patient psychiatric beds. However, demand has increased because of factors such as unemployment, isolation and economic distress related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right now, given what we’re seeing related to stress and anxiety and people’s mental health, we’re hearing anecdotally that there is increased demand,” said Dr. Debra Pinals, medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
“We’re hearing that the access has been somewhat limited for a variety of reasons partially related to some of the impacts of COVID. But also, just to try and address the demand for people with complex conditions has been hard.”
The proposed Mercy and Havenwyck Hospital would have 60 adult inpatient beds, a 24-bed geriatric psychiatric unit, partial hospitalization services and crisis management services, according to a news release. While the facility was approved for 60 beds, it has capacity for up to 96 beds.
Havenwyck Hospital is an affiliate of Universal Health Services (UHS), a for-profit company that describes itself as one of the largest hospital and healthcare providers in the nation. The company operates Forest View Psychiatric Hospital, a 108-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital in Grand Rapids Township.
Diane Henneman, divisional vice president of behavioral health at UHS, said demand for behavioral health care and substance abuse treatments is “at a higher level than we have probably seen in the past 10 years.”
“The number of patients we’re unable to serve because we’re at capacity is growing on a daily basis,” she said.
There are 310 licensed in-patient adult psychiatric beds in Allegan, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana and Ottawa counties, according to data compiled by MDHHS. That same data shows there’s a need in the region for 60 additional beds, the same number the proposed Mercy and Havenwyck hospital would provide.
The shortage of in-patient psychiatric beds has been felt by Network 180, Kent County’s community mental health authority.
Bill Ward, the organization’s executive director, said “there’s always a need for in-patient beds,” and that his agency has to send patients “all over the state” because in-patient care was unavailable locally. He wasn’t immediately able to say how many patients were in such a situation currently.
“My philosophy is anytime I can keep a Kent County resident in Kent County, that’s better for their care, their outcome and their placement back into the community,” said Ward, whose agency provides care to residents who are on Medicaid or are uninsured.
Oftentimes the emergency room, and not a psychiatric hospital, is the first stop for a resident experiencing a mental health crisis.
Biersack, the interim president of at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, said his hospital treats behavioral health emergencies in our emergency room on a daily basis.”
Having more beds in the region will mean those individuals could bypass the emergency room altogether or more quickly be transferred to an open bed at a psychiatric hospital, he said.
“Emergency rooms are designed to stabilize and make decisions about the next appropriate site of care,” Biersack said. “They’re not designed to provide comprehensive behavioral health services. We would prefer the patients be treated at the site that’s most specialized and has the most expertise.”
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