Memorial Hospital of Union County has decided to close its 10-bed inpatient behavioral health unit.

Memorial Hospital of Union County has decided to close its 10-bed inpatient behavioral health unit.

The decision was announced following the board's July meeting and was attributed to "continued and projected financial losses."

Patients will be accepted through Aug. 25, with the unit's last day of business set for Aug. 30.

Financial pressures led to the closing. The hospital board cited poor reimbursement from managed-care plans, an increase in the number of patients unable to pay for their care and an influx of patients from outside the area as factors that "have worked together to create a perfect storm."

If the unit attracted additional patients, through increased market share, that would only create a greater problem because the hospital is losing dollars on each patient served.

The board also pointed to the recent passage of the biennial budget by the Ohio legislature as a contributing factor. While costs have been trimmed, increased reimbursements do not appear possible.

The hospital reported losses of $670,000 on the unit in 2008. Losses totaled more than $1.7-million over the past three years and projections for the future showed losses would continue to grow.

Only one quarter of the unit's patients came from the local service area (Union County) In 2008.

"As a responsible member of the community, Memorial Hospital can't sustain these kinds of losses," said Rick Shortell, vice chair of the hospital's board of trustees. "Part of our mission as an independent community hospital is to serve our residents. With the relatively small number of local patients served, we are forced to ask ourselves if there are other opportunities to use these dollars to impact the health and wellness of a larger number of people."

The hospital shared data, including financial figures, with both the Mental Health and Recovery Board and Consolidated Care, Inc. (CCI), hoping that additional perspectives would help develop a model that would allow them to sustain the service.

"We appreciate the transparency of information and for having been included in the discussions," said Mike Witzky, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board. "There are no viable solutions and we understand the hospital board's decision and will cooperate on development of a transition plan."

Randy Reminder, president of CCI, said he understood the board's decision.

"This difficult decision by Memorial Hospital's leadership is the right one under the circumstances," he said. "We should all be thankful that Memorial offered the service for as long as they did and they did it so well. CCI looks forward to a continuing relationship with the hospital."

Shortell said hospital employees did all they could to deliver exceptional service.

"Our board deeply regrets having to make this decision," he said. "This is a sad day for us as we know it will impact patients, families and the employee team."

The board of trustees reviewed many proposed plans relative to severance and reassignments for the 25 full-time, part-time and contingent employees.

"In the end, our board chose an option that is fair and provides our employees with what we hope will be a softer landing," said Memorial Hospital president and CEO Chip Hubbs. "We will do all we can to help transition these employees either within or to other employers who will be fortunate to have them."

Employees affected by the closure will have the opportunity to apply for other open positions at both Memorial Hospital and The Gables at Green Pastures. A severance package based upon years of service to the organization, will also be offered with all departing employees receiving at least six weeks of severance.

"Delivering this news makes for a very sad day and is clearly the worst part of our job," Hubbs said. "All of our employees are valued and it is important to us to be as fair as we can. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people. While this is the right decision for Memorial Hospital, we regret the impact it has on team members who have given their all to our patients and organization."

Victor Trianfo, vice president of medical staff, said the decision was made in the best interest of the hospital.

"Our formal medical staff leadership has appreciated the opportunity to participate in the discussions around this concern and we fully support the decision of the hospital board," he said. "While a very difficult decision to make, it is clearly in the best interest of Memorial's long-term success."

Hubbs emphasized that only inpatient services will be closing and that the hospital will continue to support Smitha Patel, a psychiatrist on staff at Memorial Hospital who has served the inpatient unit since 2003.

"Dr. Patel will remain in the community as a trusted healthcare provider and continue to offer outpatient service," Hubbs said. "The unit's closure will actually create more time in her daily schedule to see patients in both the pediatric and adult populations."

Patel will also continue to offer behavioral health consults on inpatients served by Memorial's medical/surgical and ICU units.

The majority of patients who arrive at Memorial's emergency department with behavioral health issues can be stabilized in the ER and, once the crisis has passed, return home with instructions to receive outpatient care. After Aug. 25, those who require inpatient behavioral health care will be transferred to another regional facility.

Advanced levels of outpatient psychiatric care will still be available in the community through the services of CCI. Other resources will be available through the Mental Health and Recovery Board. Angela Wallenbrock is another psychiatrist who served inpatients at Memorial Hospital through a contract arrangement with CCI. Wallenbrock will also continue to see patients through her outpatient practice.

The space currently housing the behavioral health unit is owned by the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Union County. Its future use will be determined by that organization. The hospital has leased the space since it assumed responsibility for the service in 2000. As a tenant, it will honor its lease and then vacate the building.