The future of Cleveland’s only psychiatric emergency room is uncertain after the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center announced last week that it would close its medical emergency room and inpatient services on November 15.
Crucial to the decision will be whether the Cuyahoga County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board (ADAMHS) allocates nearly $3.8 million in funding to the Sisters of Charity’s health care system to fund the operation.
The ADAMHS Board has a long track record of funding St Vincent’s Psychiatric Emergency Department. The amount of funding St. Vincent needs to continue operations matches the amount the organization received from the ADAMHS Board in 2021 and 2022.
“We are currently in talks with St. Vincent. They are evaluating whether they would be able to operate a stand-alone psychiatric emergency department that is not affiliated with a hospital,” said Scott Osiecki, ADAMHS board chairman. “But there are state rules and regulations on that.”
He said the board would study the impact of lost services, in addition to examining St Vincent’s proposal to fund the psychiatric emergency room.
The ADAMHS board also covers medical bills for any patient without health insurance, he said.
“St. Vincent is ingrained in our crisis care continuum, particularly for people living with serious mental illness,” Osiecki said.
Located in Cleveland’s central neighborhood, the hospital is the primary emergency department for people in a psychiatric emergency involving thoughts of homicide or suicide.
St. Vincent is home to one of only two psychiatric emergency rooms in the state. Mental health ERs are different from medical ERs, which is where you would go for a heart attack or a broken leg. In a psychiatric emergency department, specially trained staff conduct assessments, provide counseling, and stabilize patients so they can transfer to other services.
The St. Vincent Emergency Department has a capacity of seven patients at a time. If someone needed to be admitted while stable, that person could be moved to one of the 20 staffed beds in the inpatient psychiatric unit.
Timothy Sommerfelt of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees (EMS) said closing the ER will impact the capacity of other Cleveland hospital ERs and increase the response time for paramedics.
Any time someone calls an ambulance for a person in acute psychiatric distress, it is Cleveland EMS policy to move that person to an emergency department. But almost every emergency room in Cleveland is already busy and understaffed, Sommerfelt said.
“It’s definitely going to be a strain on both the rescue system and local emergency departments to take in three or four thousand additional patients annually,” Sommerfelt said. “It’s definitely going to be a tough question for a healthcare system that’s already taxed.”
For their inpatient psychiatric patients, a St. Vincent official said doctors will be speaking with patients about transition plans. If patients can remain in the outpatient service, they can do so at the St. Vincent.