June 17, 2024

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Ellis closes adolescent inpatient mental health care unit


SCHENECTADY — Ellis Hospital is temporarily closing its inpatient adolescent mental health unit, citing an employee shortage that makes it difficult to keep it staffed 24 hours a day.

The closure may last months, but Ellis officials said they are recruiting to fill positions for the unit. The closure will begin Monday.

“We arrived at the difficult, but necessary, decision following persistent staffing limitations stemming from the local and national healthcare employee shortage, which will limit our abilities in the months ahead to safely staff this unit on a 24/7 basis,” the hospital said in a statement. “Ellis Medicine is committed to restoring inpatient adolescent mental health services in the coming months.”

The unit serves six to seven children a day.

The hospital notified staff late Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health responded with a news release offering to help people find care while the unit is closed.

Coalition President and CEO Andrea Smyth urged people to call a mobile mental health crisis unit.

“It isn’t necessarily the emergency room that is the best place to go,” she said. “In many cases the mobile health teams can deescalate the situation and come up with a plan of what to do next … If it can happen in the child’s home, it’s much better for them than waiting hours or days in the emergency department.”

Northern Rivers has a mobile crisis team that can be called at 518-292-5499. It serves Rensselaer County, Saratoga County, Schenectady County, Warren County and Washington County, as well as children and adolescents in Albany County. For an adult needing mental health crisis care in Albany County, call the Albany County Mental Health Center Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549-6500.

If crisis teams are not available, they refer families to the emergency department. That may change now. Albany Medical Center also does not have an inpatient mental health unit for children and adolescents.

Ellis will continue to operate all outpatient mental health services at the Ellis Health Center at 1023 State St., including the newly expanded Child & Adolescent services and the 24/7 mental health crisis line. For that line, call 518-243-4000 and ask for a crisis worker.  

But not having inpatient care will impact some families. Those who have commercial health insurance usually do not have coverage for residential treatment centers, but do have hospital coverage, Smyth said.

“That’s why closing hospital beds hurts, because commercial insurance will cover that,” she said.

About one-third of the children in the state have commercial coverage, usually through a parent’s job. Another third have Medicaid, which does cover treatment centers. The other third are on programs like Child Health Plus, which will start covering such centers later this year.

“The new law expanded it but it’s not in effect yet,” Smyth said.

Also in the works is an alternative to 911. Families with a mental health crisis will be able to dial 988, beginning July 1.

“There was significant funding in the governor’s budget – instead of having to call 911 and get law enforcement involved in cases where it’s not necessary,” Smyth said. “But that’s not until July 1.”

NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health is pushing for two changes that could improve the situation. They want the state to pass a bill that would allow licensed mental health providers to diagnose and develop treatment plans, roles currently limited to psychiatrists and social workers. That would add about 10,200 providers to help children during the current adolescent mental health crisis, with another thousand or so graduating every year.

“They have a master’s degree and take classes in how to diagnose,” Smyth said. “This bill could address the problem” with staffing.


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