2009 News

State's RNs/health professionals criticize governor’s budget for its neglect of the most vulnerable mentally ill and disabled

02.15.2009

The commonwealth’s system of care for the most vulnerable citizens is being jeopardized by yet another round of funding cuts for the state’s safety-net hospitals, as well as cuts to other state-operated facilities for the care of people with acute mental illness and severe developmental disabilities, which were proposed in the governor’s original budget for fiscal year 2010 budget that was released last month.

The budget fails to restore funding for the state’s safety-net hospitals—funding that is necessary in order to sustain these facilities. These facilities serve a disproportionate number of the state’s underserved and underinsured residents. Previous funding cuts to these facilities have led to a significant crisis, particularly for the hospitals making up Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA): Cambridge Hospital, Somerville Hospital and Whidden Hospital in Everett. In fact, CHA recently announced a significant cut in services and the closing of beds at these facilities.

“As health care providers on the frontlines of the state’s health care system, we believe the proposed cuts to the state’s health and human service programs will cause real pain and unnecessary suffering to the most vulnerable residents of the commonwealth, including the poor, the elderly, the disabled and those struggling with mental illness,” said Beth Piknick, MNA president.

The governor’s budget also calls for cuts for the state’s mental health facilities, including Taunton State Hospital, Worcester State Hospital, Westborough State Hospital and Tewksbury State Hospital; along with cuts for the state’s facilities for the care of those with severe developmental disabilities. The cuts to the Department of Mental Retardation budget follows the governor’s recently announced plan to close four of six residential care facilities for the state’s most severely disabled residents. The governor’s budget also cuts funding to the state’s public health hospitals which serve a very poor population with acute and chronic health conditions.

“Even before the current fiscal crisis, the publicly funded health care safety net in Massachusetts was fraying. Now it is being shredded at the expense of those who depend on these services for their very survival. Our concerns are all about patient care,” said Karen Coughlin, an RN at Taunton State Hospital, and acting chair of MNA’s local union that represents 1,800 nurses and health professionals employed by the state. “The state’s mental health hospitals are already failing to provide the level of care our patients deserve, and now we expect that conditions will only get worse.”

The one bright spot in the budget was the governor’s call for measures to increase revenue, which the MNA believes is essential to maintaining the health and safety of the Commonwealth. “We support Governor Patrick’s call for increasing revenue through a tax on alcohol sales,” said Piknick, “as well as meals, hotels and telecommunications, as important first steps in addressing this crisis.”

Unit 7 members: how are state budget cuts affecting your patients and clients?

As you are well aware, dramatic cuts are being made to all state-operated services and programs for the commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents. In our attempt to combat and/or limit these cuts, the MNA is engaging in a campaign to put a human face on the suffering these decisions have caused to the clients you serve and the impact on the quality of care they receive. We need your help in warning about how service and staffing cuts impact the lives of those you care for.

Please send an email to the Unit 7 executive board via David Schildmeier (dschildmeier@ mnarn.org) explaining how your patients are affected by these cuts. In submitting your stories, do not use client names or other personal or identifying information. Also, you can be assured that in sharing these anecdotes, we will not associate them with you or any other Unit 7 member.

We look forward to hearing from you and to getting your help in convincing our public officials that these cuts go beyond mere dollars and cents.

The message must be clear: It’s all about patient care!

FPO