MNA nurses condemn Ascension Borgess eliminating specialized ED behavioral health facility

Kalamazoo, MI – Michigan Nurses Association RNs are raising the alarm about Ascension’s decision to no longer use a specialty facility to care for patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis when going to the emergency room at Borgess. Nurses say that they have already seen a negative impact on the health and safety of both RNs and patients alike.

“I am concerned for everyone’s well-being,” said Cindy Evans, an emergency department behavioral health nurse. “All of our patients have the right to be provided with the best and safest care possible. Nurses have a right to not work in hazardous conditions. It’s hard not to feel like Ascension is choosing to jeopardize everyone’s safety just to be able to make more money by crowding patients together.”

“We’re really concerned about all the ways a change like this could go wrong. In fact, it feels like we’ve already seen examples of this going badly in just the past month,” said Emily Pearson, who is also an emergency department behavioral health nurse. “We just want the safest environment possible for both nurses and patients.”

In 2017, the hospital opened a new, $1.5 million Annex to provide safe care for patients who go the emergency room because they are experiencing a mental health crisis. At the time, Borgess celebrated the opening of its new facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by the hospital’s CEO and local politicians. The hospital’s Chief Medical Officer referred to the Annex in an MLive article as “an improvement for crisis patients and for all the other patients we serve in our Emergency & Trauma Center.”

Now, Ascension has decided to stop making use of that improvement. Instead, they will be using the space to have general patients next to each other.

“My fear is that a lack of a specialized facility means that patients might experience more invasive treatments – such as being held in restraints or given sedatives – that would not be necessary if they were treated in an appropriate space,” said Evans. “Ascension Borgess must re-evaluate this decision.

Ascension Borgess has said that the change is temporary and being used to increase through-put, but the hospital has provided no timeline for when the Annex will go back to being used for its intended purpose. Nurses believe that posting more jobs and hiring more nurses to ensure safe staffing is a better solution to reducing emergency department wait times than undermining the quality of care of patients in an emergent mental health crisis.

“We will not stand by and let Ascension executives put profits before patient safety,” said Lori Batzloff, RN, president of the MNA local at the hospital and MNA board member. “Ascension has the resources to provide the highest quality of care and top-notch facilities to the ER’s behavioral health patients. They are choosing not to. We will use whatever power we have as a union to make sure that both nurses and patients are kept safe.”

The Michigan Nurses Association has filed a class action grievance seeking to stop the change. A copy of the grievance is available here.

The Michigan Nurses Association is the largest and most effective union for registered nurses and healthcare professionals in Michigan. MNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United and the AFL-CIO. 

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Contact: Amelia Dornbush, 517-896-7478

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