To help meet growing demand for psychiatric care and reduce pressure on local emergency rooms, the state will provide an additional $420,000 to Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook to reopen a dozen beds.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement Monday that Spring Harbor, one of the state’s two free-standing psychiatric hospitals, will receive the additional funds for the current biennium and will now operate at its full capacity of 100 beds.
That will allow the hospital to treat an additional 400 patients over the course of this year and alleviate a growing burden for emergency departments in southern Maine.
“There have been far too many cases of individuals in need of inpatient psychiatric services spending countless days in hospital emergency rooms waiting for available psychiatric beds,” Mayhew said. “For some, it could mean many days of waiting. ”
In her statement, Mayhew said that the extra funding would not be available if not for changes in the state’s $2.6 billion MaineCare program under the administration of Gov. Paul LePage.
“Because of our efforts to stabilize (MaineCare) spending and through sound financial management, we are in a position to redirect our focus and funding to the state’s neediest and most vulnerable,” she said.
Mary Jane Krebs, president of Spring Harbor, said the extra money to reopen the hospital beds was being made available as part of a “special arrangement” with DHHS. The 12 beds had been part of Spring Harbor’s child psychiatric unit, which closed in 2009.
“The re-opening of our 12-bed unit will provide access to timely treatment of acute mental health needs,” Krebs said. “Having access to more adult psychiatric beds will decrease lengths of stay in emergency departments, and provide the necessary inpatient care to smoothly transition people to the right level care in the community setting.”
Dr. James Wolak, director of psychiatric emergency services at Maine Medical Center in Portland, said increased capacity at Spring Harbor is a good step but will not solve the problem.
“It’s a modest step,” he said. “What we really need to be talking about is what happens to people after they leave places like Spring Harbor. A lot of those community resources that are supposed to help people have decreased.”
Krebs said demand for inpatient acute care psychiatric beds has been growing in Maine over the last two years and she attributed that growth partially to the state’s heroin epidemic.
For months, Spring Harbor has been effectively full, forcing some people to endure long waits in hospital emergency rooms. According to a study conducted of hospitals in Maine, the average length of stay for psych patients increased from just under 12 hours in 2012 to more than 21 hours in 2015, Krebs said. Some patients stayed for days at a time.
Last September, a New Hampshire woman named Chyann Cahill-Hassett spent 10 days in a Lewiston hospital while awaiting a psychiatric bed.
Spring Harbor, as a part of Maine Behavioral Healthcare, connects with other providers and hospitals to find beds for patients in a timely manner. The average length of stay for patients at Spring Harbor is nine days. Only on rare occasions, Krebs said, do patients stay longer than two weeks. From Spring Harbor, patients are often transitioned into a community setting, usually a residential facility where they can continue to get care. Again in rare occasions, some patients need more long-term acute care and are transferred to Riverview in Augusta or Dorothea Dix in Bangor.
Spring Harbor is one of only two free-standing psychiatric hospitals in the state. Acadia Hospital in Bangor is the other. Many hospitals throughout Maine also have psychiatric beds but those often don’t provide the same level of service as specialized psych hospitals.