An inpatient psychiatric unit in the Monadnock region will close because of staffing issues.
The move at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene takes effect July 1.
Hospital officials say a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists has limited their ability to treat patients - while the unit is licensed to treat 12 adult and six adolescent patients, staffing issues have meant they've only had an average of three to four adults a day.
Don Caruso, CEO/President and Chief Medical Officer, says Cheshire spent three years trying to recruit full-time and weekend psychiatric staff, to no avail.
"The same psychiatrist needs to be there for a patient's stay," he says. "We were going to run the risk of not being able to do that and not provide good care, [so] we decided that it was time to close the unit."
The hospital will offer severance packages to 33 employees, though some may be reassigned to other areas of the medical center.
Caruso says Cheshire will provide initial care through a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and other staff while connecting patients with community mental health resources, though he says those resources are limited.
And, Caruso says, the health care system needs to train more psychiatrists and increase reimbursements to providers to attract and retain more practitioners.
"It really is societal," he says. "Does society value the intervention for mental health as much as it does for the intervention for cardiac disease? And I think everyone would answer the question as no."