St. Joseph Medical Center to close its psychiatric facility in downtown Houston, citing costs to keep it operating

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A place providing low-cost mental health services for people in dire need will soon close the doors to its psych ward. St. Joseph Medical Center said it can’t afford to keep its Center for Behavioral Health open and will discontinue its services in October.

In a statement to ABC13, a spokesperson for the hospital wrote in part, “Unfortunately, as a private involuntary behavioral health program in the county, it is no longer viable for us to continue to provide these services while continuing to meet local demand for other critical, non-psychiatric services.”

Dr. Asim Shah, chair for Mental Health America of Greater Houston, explained why hospital administration may have come to this decision.

“Sometimes a psychiatric unit is not profitable for hospitals. St. Joseph is one of the few hospitals which takes Medicare and Medicaid. Not a lot of hospitals like to accept those because of the low reimbursements. St. Joseph is in the middle of downtown. A lot of the people who live in the area may be homeless,” Shah said. “These people may not have insurance. But you cannot deny treatment to them, especially if they’re psychotic, manic, or suicidal. If they have insurance, we give them five to seven days. But if they’re not stable enough, you cannot discharge them. When it goes into seven or nine days, the hospital is losing money on that patient.”

Mental health advocates said these patients will be forced to go to other hospitals like Ben Taub, which is already experiencing a strain on resources and long wait times. Shah believes the city, county, and state need to help find more hospital beds.

“Sometimes, hospitals will outsource patients and spend money by contracting with other hospitals. But a simple hospital cannot do that by itself. It’s a huge task. So somebody bigger than a hospital needs to invest some money in that. Building a hospital is not an answer. Operating a hospital and finding the beds is the answer,” Shah said.

Houston City Councilmember Robert Gallegos learned of the psych ward’s closure, which is in his district, when ABC13 brought it to his attention on Wednesday. He said he plans on addressing this at the next city council meeting.

“We’ve reduced our homeless population by half, and it’s due to more than 100 organizations working together to address the issue of homelessness. To know that services will no longer be offered here, it’s very concerning,” Gallegos said. “You’re talking about individuals that are not going to have medication, management, education, prevention for things like chemical dependency, addiction, and anger management.”

According to the hospital’s website, its inpatient facility at the Center of Behavioral Health houses 24 beds for people over the age of 18. Additionally, St. Joseph has a 24-hour Level III Trauma Center, a women’s center, and a Level III Neonatal ICU in downtown Houston.

Multiple employees spoke to ABC13 off-camera and said they’ve been told they will be laid off by Oct. 18 with no severance. They will have the opportunity to apply for jobs in other departments.

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