With the unit's psychiatrist's last day on the job Feb. 15, the unit will discontinue serving patients. Those in crisis who come to the Penn Yan emergency department will be evaluated. If they need admission, they will be transferred by ambulance to another unit, such as Clifton Springs.

Update: This article has been updated to correct the description of outpatient services. The John D. Kelly outpatient program offers services for adults and children. The John D. Kelly center serves both adults and children now and will continue to do so. The inpatient psychiatric unit admits adults only.

A registered nurse who has worked on the 10-bed inpatient adult behavioral health unit at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital reports that staff there were told Friday, Feb. 8 that the unit will discontinue operations Monday, Feb. 11, the same day Yates County Legislators are expected to vote on a resolution opposing the closure of the unit.

Hospital spokesperson Lara Turbide confirmed the decision Friday afternoon, and stressed that no new patients will be admitted after the weekend, because the average length of stay for patients is five days. The last day of psychiatrist Stephanie Achilles' contract is Feb. 15. After that day, the unit will not have a psychiatrist, says Turbide. However, the John D. Kelly Behavioral Health Center continues to serve adults and children, she adds.

She says efforts to recruit another doctor for the inpatient unit have been unsuccessful, but are continuing.

However, Finger Lakes Health's website only lists recruitment information for a psychiatrist for the John D. Kelly adult outpatient program in Penn Yan.

Turbide also stresses FLH officials are in active conversation with state agencies. "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 says.

Beginning Feb. 11, people in crisis who come to the emergency department at Soldiers & Sailors hospital will be evaluated by a crisis worker — a licensed social worker — and if they are appropriate for admission, they will be transferred to a mental health unit elsewhere, such as Clifton Springs by ambulance. "We will get people to the right resources," says Turbide.

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.

Hospital leadership has said the decision to close is based on a combination of having low patient numbers and insufficient insurance reimbursement to justify paying to fully staff the unit. They also say there are inpatient mental health units at other regional hospitals experiencing the same ratio of census and reimbursements. They say closure of the unit in Penn Yan will likely benefit those other units.

But staff who have worked on the unit over the past few years say there are people who have been refused admission.

One woman who attended a community meeting Feb. 5 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 says unit staff have been told they will be paid through March 16 for any shifts they are scheduled to work on the unit.

Christensen and others who attended a community meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5, say the lack of staffing is a result of the announcement last November that the hospital would be applying for permission from the state of New York to close the unit. She says although nursing staff were told they could be reassigned to another job within Finger Lakes Health, some have begun looking for jobs elsewhere.

Turbide has confirmed that Dr. Achilles notified hospital officials last fall that she was planning to leave. Staff on the unit were told in November that the hospital would be applying to the state Department of Health to close the unit, something that wasn't done until late January, according to people who attended the community meeting Feb. 5.

The community group that met in Penn Yan discussed multiple issues revolving around mental health care for both adults and children. The group's consensus was that a long term solution is a regional plan for expanded services, something that state and federal officials must be involved with. They plan to continue meeting because, as Christensen says, "The community hasn't been heard."

Turbide says she's grateful for the community group's meetings. "It's important that the community is talking about it," she says, but adds, the process is moving on a timeline set by the state, and the challenge now is to continue to communicate.