SEATTLE — The University of Washington Medical Center has announced plans to close its psychiatric facility at its Montlake center in Seattle, lay off employees and reduce the number of available inpatient beds after financial shortfall caused by the coronavirus.
“They are going to officially close the unit,” spokesperson Tina Mankowski said, affecting about 23 employees at the Seven North facility. Seven North closed to patients last month and workers were originally furloughed.
The Washington State Nurses Association issued a statement Friday in response calling for UW Medicine to “reverse course and re-open this facility” because it is “a critical lifeline to all residents experiencing psychological distress.”
The association represents Seven North nurses. Nurse Heather Vargas-Lyon has said layoff negotiations are expected to begin Monday, The Seattle Times reported.
UW Medicine announced last month it faced a $500 million shortfall because of unplanned funds spent on COVID-19 testing and equipment while simultaneously losing millions on elective procedures.
The facility, which serves people who admit themselves voluntarily, was operating 10 of its 14 impatient beds before closing.
“Part of the reason they believe closing Seven North is the right decision is that the cost of operating a unit with the bed capacity of 10 is too high and too expensive,” nurse Caitlin Sellhorn said. “We’re told that 14 is the number that would make us break even. We’re licensed to 14, but they’ve declined to admit that many patients.”
Vargas-Lyon expects the closure of Seven North to lead to more psychiatric patients boarding in restraints in hospital emergency rooms.
There is an expected increase in people struggling with mental health and substance abuse amid the pandemic, financial uncertainty and increasing tensions over racism and injustice, said Jürgen Unützer, professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.
“We have this crazy combination of clearly increased need, especially in our area, and all of a sudden this giant loss of resources and we have to somehow find our way through this,” he said.