Pembroke Hospital cuts psychiatric beds after staffing criticism

A for-profit psychiatric hospital that’s faced repeated criticism from Massachusetts regulators has reduced its patient capacity by more than a third, blaming a shortage of doctors.

Licensed by the state for 120 beds, Pembroke Hospital is now limiting itself to operating with only 75, according to the state’s Department of Mental Health, which sets the rules for required physician staffing at psychiatric hospitals.

Fewer beds at Pembroke could put pressure on South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, which is about 12 miles away and already struggles finding places to board mentally ill patients who show up at its emergency room.

The Eye’s Chris Burrell on the potential impact of cuts in psychiatric beds at Pembroke Hospital.

Pembroke Hospital “is one of our primary referral sites for patients who need inpatient psychiatric care,” said Jason Tracy, a doctor who is South Shore’s head of emergency services. “To lose that capacity at a time when the system is already over capacity certainly makes us concerned.”

State inspections of Pembroke and other Massachusetts psychiatric hospitals in the Arbour Health chain have found evidence of insufficient staffing and poor patient care in recent years. Arbour is owned by Universal Health Services Inc., the largest provider of private mental health services in the U.S.

Pembroke Hospital, including its sister campus in Westwood, is one the state’s most profitable psychiatric hospital and receives 77 percent of its revenue from taxpayer-funded programs, according to the most recent state data.

Last summer, a state inspector assigned to monitor efforts to fix problems at Pembroke and three other Arbour hospitals — in Boston, Quincy and Westwood — flagged concerns about gaps in key leadership positions due to resignations.

Judy Merel, the director of business development at Arbour, said it’s difficult to find experienced psychiatric health staff. “While it is a priority to assure that as many beds as possible are available to meet patient care needs, we can only do so when we have the full complement of staffing necessary to assure safe, high quality care,” Merel said in an emailed statement.

Four Arbour hospitals in the state, including Pembroke, have also been under scrutiny by the the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration after workers were assaulted and injured by violent patients.

Oversight of Arbour intensified in the wake of a 20-year-old patient’s death and -care and safety violations uncovered by state inspectors. The Department of Mental Health said Pembroke Hospital had failed to conduct required nighttime checks on the patient, whose body was found in her hospital room.