The UW Medical Center considered closing its 10-bed psychiatric unit known as Seven North.
The UW Medical Center considered closing its 10-bed psychiatric unit known as Seven North. DAVID_JOHNSON/GETTY

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The University of Washington Medical Center will hold off on closing its psychiatric unit until next year, when it plans to open new mental health care beds at another facility.

Nurses in the UWMC unit, also known as Seven North, learned earlier this month that UWMC was considering closing part or all of their unit due to financial losses and necessary expensive upgrades. The closure would have resulted in fewer mental health care beds in a state already facing a shortage.

UW Medicine announced Friday it will indeed close the unit but will simultaneously open a new 12-bed unit at Northwest Hospital in fall 2019. The university had previously said it might open new beds in the future, but had not made a commitment to.

"To have it go from our unit’s closing to we’re open and there will be no gap when they open this new unit, I’m pleased," said a Seven North nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Nurses and union representatives plan to hold a rally on May 9 before speaking during the UW Board of Regents meeting. They will advocate for adequate funding and staffing for the psychiatric units.

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UWMC's psychiatric unit currently operates 10 beds, though it is licensed to operate more. It serves students and other Seattle residents who voluntarily seek mental health care and admits about 430 patients per year. The new 12-bed unit will provide voluntary inpatient care similar to the current UWMC unit, including for patients with high-risk pregnancies, said UW Spokesperson Susan Gregg. The new beds will be in addition to Northwest Hospital’s existing 27 beds for geriatric psychiatry. The university aims for the closure and opening to happen "in the same time frame," so there is not a gap in care, Gregg said.

However, further details—including how the new unit will be funded as UW Medicine endures budgetary challenges—remain unclear.

"It's too early to say at this point," Gregg said about funding. "We’ve made a commitment to add 12 beds. It's very early in the development, but that’s our commitment."

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