By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
EAST FLATBUSH — Many in Brooklyn rely on Kingsboro Psychiatric Center for mental health care, particularly within East Flatbush and the surrounding area. The facility maintains an extensive outpatient care program, as well as 300 beds for those that need long-term psychiatric care. Kingsboro is the only mental health facility in Brooklyn that takes long-term patients, and within the next year it will be closed.
The Office of Mental Health (OMH), the state department responsible for managing New York mental health facilities, posted notice last week that Kingsboro will close, and that all of its inpatient beds for long-term psychiatric patients will be moving to South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island. For Brooklyn residents without a car, this will mean a two-hour combination of trains, buses and a ferry to reach the care center.
“If you’re moving beds from a community where many residents are living below the poverty line, there is going to be a severe need there,” said David Galarza, a spokesperson for the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), a union representing some of Kingsboro’s employees. “Brooklyn is one of the state’s largest consumers of mental health care — moving Kingsboro is going to be devastating.”
The decision to close Kingsboro follows last year’s report by the Medicaid Redesign Team: Brooklyn Work Group, an Albany-based group that was asked by the Department of Health (DOH) to help solve the economic woes and healthcare delivery problems of many of Brooklyn’s hospitals. The group recommended a drastic restructuring of health care delivery in Brooklyn, including the merger of seven hospitals into three, and the closing of Kingsboro.
“We’re hoping this will provide more efficient services and better-quality care — Medicaid Health Homes are a better way to get more patients centered,” said a DOH spokesperson. Medicaid Health Homes are a decentralized version of inpatient care.
“We were looking for solutions to a dire situation,” he added.
Many state and city representatives have expressed their concern with OMH’s decision, which, some have said, could take effect in as little as two or three months.
“I understand the drive to restructure health care in Brooklyn,” said state Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs (D-Flatbush/Midwood/Prospect Park South), “but this is a quality-of-life issue, and it is wrong to ask people, many of whom are severely ill, to go to Staten Island for care.”
Many nearby residents are also worried about the closing of Kingsboro, said Terry Hines, chairman of Community Board 17.
“Many people here are not comfortable seeking services outside of the neighborhood — many are likely to just forego services,” Hines said, adding that residents who are dependent on Kingsboro have been frustrated by the OMH’s decision to close the facility without community input. “It has gone through without concern for the public.”
A spokesperson for the Office of Mental Health, Leesa Rademacher, explained that the agency believes closing Kingsboro will improve care in the borough, saying it will free up money for outpatient clinic- and community-based care.
Rademacher added that OMH also hopes to minimize the jobs impact of closing Kingsboro. “Our planning will consider Kingsboro employees,” she said. “Specifically, many employees will continue to work in community services and residential positions or be offered employment at South Beach.”
The Brooklyn delegation to the City Council will meet with staff from DOH, OMH and Governor Cuomo’s office today in hopes of slowing down or stopping the closure.
“Let’s slow down and make sure we do this right,” Assemblywoman Jacobs later said, adding that many are hoping for more public involvement, and potentially to keep Kingsboro open.
“It’s a one-stop shop, and we need it,” she said.