Nurses rally to restore psychiatric services at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

Nurses and local leaders called for the reopening of two psychiatric wards at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital at a Nov. 17 rally.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Members of the state’s nurses union are calling on New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital to restore two psychiatric facilities that were closed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York State Nurses Association say the two wards, which hold about 50 patients, continue to go unused and empty, eliminating inpatient mental healthcare for hundreds of patients over the eight-month period. On Nov. 16, the union was joined outside the hospital on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope by community members, elected officials, patients and their families — all of whom called to reopen the units without delay.

Proponents of restoring the psychiatric facilities say the pandemic has exacerbated the city’s mental health crisis, and that more people need access to mental health services than ever before. Healthcare workers at the rally alleged that some psychiatric patients have waited days in the Methodist Hospital emergency room before being transported to facilities outside the city, while others have been admitted to Methodist surgery floors where they cannot receive the specialized care that they need.

Leaders further contended that the tensions caused by lack of access have led to assaults on hospital staff.

“With 50 beds closed, it’s created an unsafe environment,” said Irving Campbell, a psychiatric nurse at Methodist Hospital. “We’re hearing about increased attacks on our fellow colleagues, ER wait times to transfer the behavioral health patients has increased and we’re seeing them on our non-behavioral health units. Simply put: New York-Presbyterian has ignored the people of Park Slope and the neighboring communities and the community demands that the unit be reopened.”

Borough President Eric Adams echoed those sentiments, citing his own experience with the city’s mental health services as a former Police Department captain.

“I saw during my law enforcement days the failed policies of mental health,” he said. “About 48 percent of those incarcerated are suffering from some form of mental health and when you don’t become more upstream and pro-active, instead of being reactive – these are failed policies.”

Those inefficiencies, Adams said, “will lead to inequalities that leads to injustice.”

Reopening the wards is crucial to meeting the mental health needs of Brooklynites, leaders contended at the rally.Photo by Todd Maisel

“When you close these facilities, men, women and children [will not receive] the care they deserve,” he went on. “This fight is crucial. We must reopen these hospital beds and provide the function that they are supposed to provide.”

Councilman Brad Lander said he and other elected officials back the hospital’s efforts to build new hospital buildings, even in the face of some neighborhood opposition. The hospital needs that same support, he said, to reopen the two wards in question.

“My sister-in-law is a psychiatric nurse and talks to me every day about what she is seeing – the need for those services is so clear,” Lander said. “All you have to do is walk around the streets of Brooklyn to see how much mental health need there is. We even feel it in ourselves the level of anxiety and disorder that we are all feeling. You know the need for these psychiatric beds is powerful. It is appalling for NYP to reduce these services in the cover of a pandemic and reduce mental health services.”

Assemblywoman Joanne Simon echoed Lander in saying there are “not enough psychiatric beds to begin with.”

“We talked about the numbers of people incarcerated because they have mental health illness and we didn’t provide them with the mental health services in the first place so our state prison system has become the chief provider of mental health services,” Simon said. “There is something very wrong with that picture.”

Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus — one of the only mental health professionals in the state legislature — said she knows firsthand what happens when local healthcare facilities don’t provide the proper services to those struggling.

“What I know for sure is that it is a shame that people turn their backs on people who need psychiatric services during a global pandemic,” Frontus said. “We need to think people over profit. This is an issue of life or death. When we don’t provide the care for people in need, where do we see them? Out on the streets. We see them rummaging through garbage in all sorts of despair, sleeping. I got a picture texted to me that my staff couldn’t get into the office because of an entire group sleeping in front of the door – this is a very serious issue.”

Leaders also took Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife Chirlane McCray and the Department of Health to task at the rally, claiming they have not done enough to increase mental healthcare in the city, and that they have stayed silent on the reopening of the psychiatric beds at Methodist.

In a statement issued after the rally, a spokesperson for Methodist Hospital said the closure of the wards was necessary to combat the rise in patients battling COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak in the spring.

“To create critically needed ICU capacity to respond to the massive surge in COVID-19 patients earlier this year, it was necessary to transfer psychiatric patients within NewYork-Presbyterian,” the statement read. “Our commitment to behavioral health is unwavering and we very much understand the desire to know when inpatient beds at certain hospitals will return. At this time, we are finalizing a plan with regulatory agencies to reopen behavioral health beds across the network, while remaining prepared and flexible for another possible surge of COVID-19.”

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.