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FLH unit will ‘discontinue’ services on Monday, despite not yet receiving state’s OK to shut down

Little more than a week after a spokesperson for Finger Lakes Health told FingerLakes1.com that the behavioral health unit in Penn Yan would not shut down until the state approved it – employees of Soldiers & Sailors learned Friday that care would be ‘discontinued‘ effective Monday, February 11th.

Hospital spokesperson Lara Turbide confirmed the decision on Friday, and told multiple media outlets that after the weekend – no new patients would be admitted. The timing is due to the average length of stay for new patients, according to Turbide.

Psychiatrist Stephanie Achilles’ last day is February 15th, and given the average length of stay for a patient – new ones will not be accepted beginning Monday, February 11th.

It’s the same day the Yates County Legislature is expected to pass a resolution opposing the units closure, which is an ‘active conversation’ with state agencies according to Turbide and the Chronicle-Express in Penn Yan.

After February 15th the unit will not have a psychiatrist, Turbide told press. However, the John D. Kelly Behavioral Health Center continues to serve adults, she adds.

She added that efforts to recruit another doctor for the inpatient unit have been unsuccessful, but are continuing. Finger Lakes Health’s website only lists recruitment information for a psychiatrist for the John D. Kelly adult outpatient program in Penn Yan, according to that report.

Turbide stressed that officials are in active conversation with state agencies, and did not call the discontinuation of services a permanent closure. “This is not a closure. We are continuing to work with the Office of Mental Health and Department of Health on a plan….We are committed to providing safe care,” she told the Chronicle-Express.

Beginning Monday, those in crisis who come to the emergency department at Soldiers & Sailors will be evaluated by a crisis worker – a licensed social worker – then transferred to a mental health unit elsewhere if admission if appropriate. Turbide added, “We will get people to the right resources.”

There are conflicting versions of the events that have led to Finger Lakes Health’s decision to seek closure of the behavioral health unit, with current and former staff describing poor management situations or decisions they feel were inappropriate for some patients, including barring some individuals from the unit, according to the Chronicle-Express.

Turbide told FingerLakes1.com earlier that the decision came down to reimbursement and underutilization. However, staff who have worked at the unit over the last few years say people have been refused admission in the past.

One woman who attended a community meeting February 5th in Penn Yan said her son was arrested and brought to Soldiers & Sailors emergency department nine times. He was evaluated but not admitted. She took him to Clifton Springs, where he was admitted.

Brittney Christensen, R.N., who has been working on the unit as a contracted provider, says she was shocked when Ardelle Bigos, vice president of nursing, came to the unit Friday morning and broke the news to staff, saying the unit does not have the staffing to ensure the unit is safe. Christensen told the Chronicle-Express that unit staff have been told they will be paid through March 16th.

Christensen contends that the community has not been heard, and that this issue will not simply fade in the days or weeks to come. Additional community meetings are expected.

Stay tuned this week for more on this story throughout the week.

Also on FingerLakes1.com