Jackson Health System plans to close children’s residential psych unit

Jackson Health System plans to close a 12-bed unit for high-risk children with severe psychiatric issues early next month, according to a hospital spokesman.

Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, located on the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center campus, is one of 15 facilities in Florida with a Statewide Inpatient Psychiatric Program, also referred to as SIPP. Jackson’s SIPP has been in place since 2002.

SIPP is an intensive residential program, and most patients admitted to the unit are there for two to six months. Some of the conditions treated include major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The program is for Medicaid recipients, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

“The children must be on Medicaid, but they can live in the community or be in custody of the State,” agency spokeswoman Jamie Sowers said in an email.

According to hospital spokesman Edwin O’Dell, Jackson Health is better suited for short-term, urgent psychiatric care — not patients who need a long-term, live-in program. The hospital made the decision and notified the Agency for Health Care Administration on June 2.

“It is our belief that an acute-care facility is not the place for a residential program,” O’Dell said in an emailed statement.

SIPP patients need recreational and leisure activities, he said, and time to exercise and get fresh air. O’Dell said the hospital plans to focus on its strengths and move away from programs outside of its scope.

“These care amenities are not available in an acute care hospital,” he said.

The SIPP program is often viewed as a last resort for children who have exhausted other resources. According to Sowers, children who come to SIPP have tried less restrictive treatment and still need help.

The nine patients in the program will either be discharged before July or transferred to other facilities — primarily campus settings “more conducive to residential care,” O’Dell said.

Patients admitted to the program are under the care of nurses, mental health specialists and psychologists. The hospital’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year shows that the program brought in more than $1.6 million. Roughly $1.5 million went to salaries, food expenses, supplies and an operating agreement with UM.

In 2004, the SIPP program at Jackson came under scrutiny after children complained of being mistreated. Inspectors from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration noted two dozen concerns, including shoddy records, complaints of staff members verbally abusing patients and children receiving psychotropic medication without informed consent.

The program embarked on a correction plan and provided more training for staff members in response to the complaints.

No hospital employees are expected to lose their jobs over the program closing. The unit currently has 17 full-time employees.

“As far as we know at the moment, the employees affected will likely be absorbed into other positions in the mental health division,” said Rebecca Wakefield, spokeswoman for SEIU 1991, the union that represents Jackson physicians and nurses.