SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On less than 48 hours notice, services at Ellis Hospital’s inpatient adolescent mental health unit ground to a halt. Following a sudden announcement Saturday, by Monday the hospital initiated a “temporary pause” on all services.
The unexpected change sending shockwaves through the community, not just for local families, but also shaking the organizations trying to help them through a crisis.
“When people ask what resources are available in the Capital Region, that is one of the first places that we share,” explains Sandra Goldmeer, Area Director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Capital Region NY Chapter.
“The Ellis closure is a very poor timing for any children in the community. This is the one inpatient unit for quite a distance,” says Andrea Smyth, President & CEO of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health.
“It was a big surprise. There are notification requirements for hospitals about closure. None of that formal notification happened, because I think everyone thought it would be temporary,” Smyth goes on to say.
In Ellis Medicine’s initial announcement, the statement reads in part:
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. Ellis Medicine is committed to restoring inpatient adolescent mental health services in the coming months. Employee recruitment is of utmost priority, and we have already begun an aggressive recruiting campaign to fill critical clinical positions in this service line.
While the hospital’s outpatient mental health services and 24/7 hotline are still open, local advocates worry kids and teens in distress may still slip through the cracks.
“Inpatient care meets the needs of those in highest risk. It gonna keep them safest if they are in active crisis, and anytime there’s less patient care available in a community, we’re just not meeting the needs,” says Goldmeer.
The Ellis inpatient unit services an average six to seven patients daily, and it was not made immediately apparent where those patients would be transferred.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24 in the U.S. Its been made even worse by the pandemic. In early 2021, emergency room visits for suicide attempts went up more than 30 percent in kids 12-17 compared to the same time period in 2019.
However without staff, resources are stretched thin, affecting not just Ellis.
“Seventy six percent of my agencies have all reported that they too have to stop intake for the whole spectrum of outpatient, residential, intensive, and screening services because they don’t have enough workforce,” Smyth explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
She says the state needs to provide better support for youth mental health and says the coalition has petitioned the NYS Office of Mental Health for assistance at the Ellis inpatient center.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for a national awareness of a crisis, and we believe that the governor also needs to state that New York State is in a state of emergency with regard to access to children’s mental health services,” she says.
These advocates now petition the state to dedicate funds and redistribute staff from other programs so the Ellis inpatient facility can stay open. In the meantime, they suggest reaching out to other local avenues and even calling the suicide help line to get advice on talking to your kids when they need you.
“It’s a sign of strength to ask for help not a sign of weakness. We as adults maybe didn’t have the best model about talking about our mental health. That’s all the more that we need to create a culture that allows our youth to share that they’re struggling and to know that they will be seen and heard and believed,” says Goldmeer.
“It’s not just ‘being a teenager’ or ‘being overdramatic’. When they say they’re struggling, they are,” she goes on to say.
The Ellis Health Center, located at 1023 State St., Schenectady, offers outpatient mental health services, as well as child and adolescent services. The Ellis Medicine 24/7 mental health crisis line may be reached by calling 518-243-4000 and asking for a crisis worker.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers both regional and national resources, in-person and virtual training programs, and manages the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
Starting July 2022, anyone across the nation will be able to connect to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 988. This will route all callers to the 24/7 toll-free crisis line.