Psych Unit Closure Set For Sept. 1

Psych Unit Closure Set For Sept. 1

Despite months of negotiation, Inova Alexandria Hospital is holding firm on its decision to close the hospital’s psychiatric unit.

When Inova announced the plans to close the unit last fall, City Council appointed two representatives to meet with hospital staff and city staff to look at alternatives.

“The psychiatric unit provides much-needed mental health services to many of our residents,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg, who, along with Councilman Rob Krupicka, has been working with Inova and others regarding this matter.

“We have held several meetings and have raised a number of concerns. We are disappointed that Inova still intends to close the psychiatric unit but there is little that we can do about their decision. They are a business and this is a business decision,” Smedberg said.

For more than a year, the hospital’s clinical staff and administration have been studying the healthcare needs of the city. To best meet these needs, according to a statement released by Inova, “Inova Alexandria Hospital must expand its beds for patients needing medical, surgical and emergency care. Patients often face long waits in the emergency department before an available bed can be found to admit the patient into the hospital. To address this issue, Inova Alexandria Hospital will transfer its program for in-patient psychiatric care to nearby Inova Mt. Vernon Hospital, leaving 19 available beds at Inova Alexandria Hospital for the care of cardiac, cancer, heart, medical, surgical and emergency department patients.

“Inova Mt. Vernon Hospital will be expanding staff and its regionally recognized psychiatric unit to accommodate the additional patients,” the statement read.

THE ALEXANDRIA facility has provided care for many of the city’s mental health patients. “We are very concerned that there be a really thorough and appropriate transition plan for their care,” Smedberg said.

And it’s not just a concern for transitioning long-term care. Police bring many of the patients at Inova Alexandria Hospital’s psychiatric unit. Transporting patients to Mt. Vernon or other facilities within the Inova system will increase the time that is required for police officers to accomplish transportation and registration of patients. There has also been a concern on the part of some judges about the issue of dealing with crossing jurisdictional boundaries.

“These are just some of the issues that need to be addressed by Inova staff as they prepare to close the unit,” Smedberg said.

Sara Waskowicz, a nurse who works in the psychiatric unit at Inova Alexandria Hospital, said she has organized a protest rally that will be held on Saturday, March 6, from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“We just want people to be aware that this decision isn’t good for Alexandria,” Waskowicz said. “We hope that a number of elected officials and members of the community will attend.”

The psychiatric unit is scheduled to close on Sept. 1. In the meantime, city staff and City Council members will continue to meet with Inova staff to ensure a smooth transition of services to Mt. Vernon Hospital.

“Inova staff has assured us that there is a commitment to providing these services at Mt. Vernon, but just a short time ago, Inova was looking at closing that facility entirely,” Smedberg said. “We are discussing the possibility of reconstituting a hospital task force, which will meet regularly so that we aren’t surprised when these issues arise.

"While the commitment to serve Alexandria’s psychiatric patients at Mt. Vernon Hospital seems strong today, that could change in six months and we need to be aware of what is going on,” said Smedberg.