By Catherine Shu
When Governor George Pataki included plans to close the Bronx
Psychiatric Center in his late January budget proposal, the anxiety
felt by many of the center's 420 patients and their families was
compounded by a lack of alternatives. Not only is the Bronx Psychiatric
Center the borough's one long-term state psychiatric center, but
it also houses the only Spanish-speaking bilingual wards in the
entire state system.
For many advocates, the governor's decision
to target the Bronx Psychiatric Center underscored his failure
to take the neighboring
community's needs into account. Half of the Bronx's population
is Hispanic, many of whom are recent immigrants "with a very
rudimentary command of the English language," said Carlos
Rodriguez, a therapist on one of the bilingual wards.
were granted a reprieve in late May when Pataki’s
proposal was blocked by the state legislature. But the initial
panic has only been replaced by a constant anxiety that the closing
can be revived at any time, and families continue to worry about
what might happen to their loved ones.
Rodriguez pointed out that the unique services offered in the
bilingual wards goes beyond language assistance. The staff is also
to take cultural factors into account when treating inpatients
of Hispanic descent.
"I'm not aware of other units that are aggressively incorporating
concepts of multicultural psychiatry," Rodriguez said, "While
I’m sure that there are Hispanic personnel elsewhere, I'm
not sure that an environment like this has been created."
of the patients on the bilingual wards are recent immigrants to
the United States and the staff is trained to take those experiences
into account when evaluating a patient's ability to function.
"There are issues of whether we need to assist the client
in the process of acculturation or immigration," Rodriguez
patient's diagnosis may be revised because some of the issues present
may be more related to those factors than to psychiatric or psychotic
Therapists and psychiatrists on the wards also "incorporate
cultural elements that need to be addressed" in a treatment
plan, Rodriguez said, "like religious ideas or spiritual beliefs
that the client may have."
While Rodriguez credits the multicultural
and bilingual approach to psychiatry with shorter stays for long-term
patients, he also
stressed the need for long-term treatment required by many psychiatric
disorders. Other advocates have also voiced these concerns, noting
that the center's inpatient census is at a maximum and that many
outpatients also depend on the center's therapists and programs
for monitoring and care.
“There will be no venue for doctors and therapists to either
reach their clients or keep in touch,” said Paulina Magnetti,
the director of the Bronx Provider Consumer Alliance Resource Center.
worries that former inpatients who successfully took advantage
of the services offered in the bilingual wards will not
have access to the same treatment plans if they should suffer a
"Rehospitalization is part of the a chronic illness and the
thing is, will there be services available for these patients,
to shorten their stays?" he asked.
In addition to their Bronx
clientele, the bilingual wards also serves patients from Manhattan
“The day we discharge someone, someone comes in. We never
have empty beds waiting,” said Rodriguez, “I think
it’s incredible when you
think of the demand and the need for longer term psychiatric care that is in
While no plans have been made concrete, many families
and staff believe that patients will be transferred to Pilgrim Psychiatric
Center on Long Island if
the BPC does close. While Pilgrim also offers language services to Hispanic
patients, however, it does not have the same multicultural treatment plans
Pilgrim's location also poses a problem for many families.
the closing was first proposed last January, June Rodriques, a
volunteer at the hospital with a sister in one of the inpatient
wards, took a "test
trip" to Long Island.
"I decided to see how inconvenient or how easy it would be
to go to Long Island," Rodriques
said, "I went by bus, subway, train, and taxi, and it took me four
Rodriques said that patients depend on their families "to
keep them somewhat in touch with the outside world." While she currently
visits her sister at least three times a week, Rodriques estimates that
she would only be able
to make the trip out to Long Island once a month. Many of the lower income
families served by the BPC cannot afford private transportation.
Being relocated away from families could be especially detrimental to
patients on the bilingual wards because "Hispanic families tend to stay very close," Carlos
"I think one of the reasons that [the bilingual] units had been opened here
was because some of these patients had been sent to hospitals far away from their
families in the Bronx," Carlos Rodriguez said, "Some people come here
so that they can be closer to their families, so that we can integrate their
family into the treatment."
Though Governor Pataki's initial proposals
(which also included plans to close three upstate psychiatric centers)
by the state
late May, the future of the Bronx Psychiatric Center and its sister
Bronx Children's Psychiatric Center, continues to hinge on the precarious
health of the economy.
“If they should close this hospital, who is going to serve
the population of the Bronx, particularly the Hispanic population?” asked
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