PITTSFIELD — The Brien Center has temporarily stopped admitting children suffering from psychiatric crises into its residential treatment center while administrators work with insurance companies to ensure the program's success going forward.

"I just want to be clear that the program is not formally closed," said M. Christine Macbeth, CEO of The Brien Center.

She emphasized that the move to stop accepting patients in the center, known as the child crisis stabilization unit, is only temporary.

Since 1997, The Brien Center has offered community-based acute treatment for children younger than 18 who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis. Care in the eight-bed facility typically spans from a couple of days to a week, and is a "step below" being admitted into a psychiatric hospital, Macbeth said.

There is no inpatient psychiatric hospital for youths in Berkshire County. The Brien Center's unit is a way to ensure that children suffering from a psychiatric crisis can be stabilized locally, while avoiding hospitalization in the eastern part of the state, she said.

The decision to stop admitting patients to the unit last week stems from a combination of staffing issues and concerns that insurance companies are not reimbursing care at sustainable "daily rates."

In order for a child to be admitted into the center, their insurance company has to approve the care, Macbeth said. The insurance companies each reimburse the center at different daily rates, and the difference in what companies are willing to pay can vary as much as $200 a day per patient, she said.

In recent years, the insurance companies have been approving children less frequently for the services, and for less time, she said.

Over the past three years, the program has been "chronically under-utilized and under-funded," according to Macbeth.

"We've not been full over the last three years," she said. "The daily rate does not support the loss."

Before suspending the program, The Brien Center notified Berkshire Medical Center and other facilities that refer patients to the treatment unit, Macbeth said.

For now, those children in need of inpatient psychiatric treatment, outside of hospitalization, are being referred to similar programs in Springfield and Worcester, she said.

While the unit is not in operation, Macbeth said, she is in communication with insurance companies and the state to try to increase the daily reimbursement rates.

"We're still working on this and trying to come up with a solution," she said.

The temporary closure of the unit doesn't affect The Brien Center's mobile outreach and crisis response unit, which continues to be available 24 hours by an emergency hotline, Macbeth said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.