Ellis closes inpatient teen mental health unit

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SCHENECTADY — Ellis Hospital is temporarily closing its inpatient adolescent mental health unit, citing a staff shortage that is making it difficult to keep it staffed around the clock.

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

“We have come to the difficult, but necessary decision, following ongoing staffing limitations resulting from shortages of local and national healthcare personnel, which will limit our ability in the coming months to safely staff this unit. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” the hospital said. in a report. “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 press 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.


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

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 in need of mental health crisis care in Albany County, call the Albany County Mental Health Center Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549-6500.

If the crisis teams are not available, they refer the families to the emergency room. 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 and Youth Services and the 24/7 mental health crisis hotline /7. For this line, dial 518-243-4000 and ask for an emergency worker.

But not having hospital care will impact some families. Those with commercial health insurance typically don’t 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 children in the state have commercial coverage, usually through a parent’s job. Another third has Medicaid, which covers treatment centers. The other third is for programs like Child Health Plus, which will start covering these centers later this year.

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

An alternative to 911 is also in the works. Families experiencing a mental health crisis will be able to dial 988 from 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 needed,” Smyth said. “But it’s not until July 1st.”

The 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 teen mental health crisis, with about a thousand more graduating each year.

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

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