2012

Taunton Gazette Features Tremendous Coverage of the Proposed Closure of Taunton State Hospital, And the Fight to Keep It Open

01.30.2012

To shutter or survive: Implications on mental health care with closing of Taunton State Hospital

Taunton State Hospital grounds use

Submitted photo

The grounds of Taunton State Hospital

By Marc Larocque

Staff Writer

Posted Jan 29, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Taunton - Gov. Deval Patrick’s plans to save costs by closing Taunton State Hospital and shift inpatient beds to Worcester will decrease the quality of mental health care in southeastern Massachusetts and throughout Cape Cod and the Islands, according to mental health advocates and local legislators who oppose the move.

Many opponents of the plans to close Taunton State also point out that this will be a blow to the justice system, as courts throughout eastern Massachusetts rely on Taunton State Hospital for its criminal forensic evaluation unit, which is consistently full.

Brenda Venice, president for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said it’s a bad decision to take the 169 inpatient beds from Taunton State, and bringing 45 to a Tewksbury facility and putting 124 of them in a larger, newly constructed hospital in Worcester.

"If you build a hospital, why downsize people in the southeast area?" Venice said. "If you didn’t have enough money to fund it without closing Taunton State, you shouldn’t have built it. You should have built a smaller one."

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, has organized a meeting at noon today at First Parish Church at Church Green to discuss the administration’s plans to close Taunton State, and the need to protect mental health services in the region.

Venice pointed out that one of the biggest problems with the plans to close Taunton State, is that it would force families from southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape to travel to Worcester or Tewksbury to support their loved ones who are suffering from mental illness. She said it would have the biggest effect on elderly people with family members suffering from mental illness.

"Part of recovery is you need family participation, to be along with you," Venice said. "With this change, they would do more time traveling than seeing their loved one. It’s wrong. Especially for the elderly people who need to see their loved ones. Why are you doing that? I don’t think people with mental health conditions should have a price on them."

Patrick’s explanation for closing

Patrick has emphasized that no net jobs will be lost, and the state will maintain its total 626 mental health inpatient beds statewide.

"We understand that this announcement will impact the community of Taunton," Patrick said in a statement. "We look forward to working collaboratively with the city during the implementation of this transfer and closure plan."

Several messages requesting an interview on the hospital closing left at Patrick’s press office and also with a communications director for the Department of Mental Health (DMH) on Friday were not returned as of deadline.

DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm talked about the decision in a letter to staff, describing Taunton State as "antiquated" and categorizing the move as a effort to minimize revenue loss to the state general fund, adding that it also mitigates the possibility of further reductions to other DMH services. Leadholm said it represents a shift from "institutional culture" to one that uses "anticipated savings" to enhance community placements, mentioning that DMH would work to have patients put in community settings closer to home if possible.

Closing facility in already ‘fragile’ system

Several mental health advocates and state legislators from southeastern Massachusetts have claimed the closing will only worsen an existing fragility within the state’s mental health care system.

The Southcoast Hospitals system said in a statement that it believes this could be a precursor to less inpatient beds throughout the state, saying that "the closing of another facility will only add to the existing problem."

Many patients who are going through a mental health crisis often wait in emergency rooms for days to be committed, said Venice, of NAMI.

Pacheco pointed to the 2004 Inpatient Study Report prepared for legislators by the DMH under the leadership of Commissioner Elizabeth Childs.

Pacheco said if Taunton State were to remain open in addition to the new Worcester facility, the number of inpatient beds in the system would be 750. The 2004 report recommended that the commission could reduce to 740 from 900 to adequately service the needs of the mental health community.

"The system right now is very, very fragile," Pacheco said. "The number of beds that we have have been inadequate for many years based upon the need that we have."

Pacheco said that southeastern Massachusetts is growing in population, and will be unfairly effected.

Pacheco also refuted the notion that Taunton State is somehow inadequate because of its age, explaining that while it’s not a brand-new facility, it is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

"It has to be millions of dollars that were spent on Taunton State in recent years that are now going to waste," said Pacheco. "They just got done doing a whole new power plant for the facility."

Many advocates believe that if Taunton State is shuttered there is no chance it could open again.

Negative effect on the justice system

State Rep. Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth, said that as a former assistant district attorney, he expects that the closing of Taunton State will make it more difficult for the justice system in the evaluation of defendants who may have mental health issues. Markey said  having Taunton State helps courts and houses of correction from all over Barnstable County, Plymouth County, Bristol County and Norfolk County.

There is a 25-bed forensic evaluation unit at Taunton State Hospital for the criminally insane, which is consistently full, workers say. Many advocates are wondering whether or not this will be replaced somehow, and some worry that if it is not replaced, it could result in more mentally ill people in prison settings without access to the care they need to stabilize.

Markey said the closing of Taunton State may even factor into a judge’s decision whether or not to send a defendant for an evaluation, now having to travel more than 50 miles back and forth to Worcester.

"I think having the availability of it in close proximity allows judges to feel much more comfortable sending people there for evaluation," Markey said. "If at the end of the day we are looking to find justice, I don’t know if I want to do this, send him all the way to Worcester. ... If it’s a borderline, what’s going to happen? In many cases, a person could benefit from a timely evaluation ... The reliance of judges in Bristol County asking assistance form Taunton State, I think, allows us to handle the mental health issues on the criminal side in a much more efficient way."

Markey also questioned whether it would be cost efficient to close Taunton State and it’s criminal forensics unit, because it would add overtime and travel costs for every defendant that needs an evaluation.

"Someone gets arrested in Taunton, that person isn’t going to be brought by sheriff to Taunton State anymore," he said. "They won’t be brought back for 9 a.m. for a judicial determination. The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office is going to have to drive to Worcester State, and bring him back to Taunton."

Markey questioned what would happen to the doctors doing the evaluations at Taunton State, whether they would have to travel every day to Worcester  when they are already overworked. Markey also questioned what would happen with Rogers hearings that deal with medication issues, and whether one judge in Worcester would now be responsible for the all criminal defendants with mental illness who are sent to central Massachusetts.

169 The number of beds at Taunton State Hospital for people who are mentally ill.

124 The amount of inpatient beds in Taunton planned to be consolidated into a new Worcester facility.

45 The amount of Taunton State beds that will be transferred to Tewksbury Hospital.

626 The amount of mental health beds Gov. Deval Patrick plans to maintain throughout the state.

740 The amount of beds recommend to “safely” operate the mental health system, according to the 2004 Inpatient Study Report prepared for legislators by the Department of Mental Health.

Contact Marc Larocque at mlarocqu@tauntongazette.com


Who will fight it?: Taunton-area lawmakers respond to Taunton State Hospital closing

 

Taunton State Hospital 1

 

Photo by Mike Gay | Taunton Gazette

Historic buildings are located on the Taunton State Hospital grounds.

By Gerry Tuoti

Staff Writer

Posted Jan 26, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Taunton —

Area legislators say they are vowing to fight the Patrick Administration’s decision to shut down Taunton State Hospital by the end of the year.

Sen. Marc Pacheco

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, has organized a meeting at noon Sunday at First Parish Church to discuss protecting mental health services in the region.

“Those are critical services provided at Taunton State Hospital,” Pacheco said.

“This is a comprehensive mental health system. When you take a critical piece of the system away, it undermines the whole system. We’re inviting federal, state, local, religious and community leaders, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill … We will have an action plan for people to move forward, to begin calling and advocating to do what we can.”

The state Department of Mental Health announced Tuesday it will close Taunton State Hospital by Dec. 31 and relocate  patients to Tewksbury and a new facility in Worcester, which is scheduled to open this summer.

Administration officials cited budget constraints and the opening of the Worcester facility as major factors in the decision to close Taunton State Hospital.

Rep. Patricia Haddad

State Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, accused administration officials of paying “lip service” to the legislative delegation when they met last year and discussed Taunton State Hospital.

“They have a lot to answer for,” she said. “I think we were given lip service. I think they made the decision that they built this hospital (in Worcester) and are going to fill the beds. Right now, my whole thought process is colored by a feeling of betrayal, being disrespected.”

Area legislators plan to meet with the governor to discuss the issue.

“The anger I’m feeling is so intense,” Haddad said. “If nothing else, we’re going to blast them with information and make them answer the questions they were supposed to be working on when we had a meeting several months ago.”

 

Rep. Shaunna O’Connell

State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, said she will work with the rest of the legislative delegation “to see what we can do about this closure.”

“We’re working very hard to come up with a plan to try to keep the hospital open,” she said. “During the budget process, this was a top priority for me.”

She said it’s difficult to predict how successful such efforts will be, but that it won’t prevent local legislators from trying.

Area legislators say they are vowing to fight the Patrick Administration’s decision to shut down Taunton State Hospital by the end of the year.

 

Sen. Marc Pacheco

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, has organized a meeting at noon Sunday at First Parish Church to discuss protecting mental health services in the region.

“Those are critical services provided at Taunton State Hospital,” Pacheco said.

“This is a comprehensive mental health system. When you take a critical piece of the system away, it undermines the whole system. We’re inviting federal, state, local, religious and community leaders, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill … We will have an action plan for people to move forward, to begin calling and advocating to do what we can.”

The state Department of Mental Health announced Tuesday it will close Taunton State Hospital by Dec. 31 and relocate  patients to Tewksbury and a new facility in Worcester, which is scheduled to open this summer.

Administration officials cited budget constraints and the opening of the Worcester facility as major factors in the decision to close Taunton State Hospital.

 

Rep. Patricia Haddad

State Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, accused administration officials of paying “lip service” to the legislative delegation when they met last year and discussed Taunton State Hospital.

“They have a lot to answer for,” she said. “I think we were given lip service. I think they made the decision that they built this hospital (in Worcester) and are going to fill the beds. Right now, my whole thought process is colored by a feeling of betrayal, being disrespected.”

Area legislators plan to meet with the governor to discuss the issue.

“The anger I’m feeling is so intense,” Haddad said. “If nothing else, we’re going to blast them with information and make them answer the questions they were supposed to be working on when we had a meeting several months ago.”

 

Rep. Shaunna O’Connell

State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, said she will work with the rest of the legislative delegation “to see what we can do about this closure.”

“We’re working very hard to come up with a plan to try to keep the hospital open,” she said. “During the budget process, this was a top priority for me.”

She said it’s difficult to predict how successful such efforts will be, but that it won’t prevent local legislators from trying.

“It may be that the administration and the Department of Mental Health think it’s a done deal, but we certainly do not,” she added. “We need to prepare for whatever the outcome may be.”

 

Rep. Keiko Orrall

State Rep. Keiko Orrall, R-Lakeville, whose district includes part of Taunton, said her office has fielded several calls on Taunton State Hospital since Tuesday.

She said she feels there are questions Gov. Deval Patrick and the Department of Mental Health need to answer about what other options were considered. She also said communication from the administration was lacking throughout the process.

Orrall said she will work with the rest of the legislative delegation, but isn’t sure how successful the efforts will be.

“Sen. Pacheco and Rep. Haddad have been at the forefront to talk to the governor, but it feels like the decision’s been made,” Orrall said. “It’s like it’s, ‘Sorry. We’re done.’”

 

Contact Gerry Tuoti at gtuoti@tauntongazette.com.

 

 

Jobs displaced, lives interrupted for workers at Taunton State Hospital

Photos

Taunton State nurses sign

Submitted photo

Front row, from left, nurses Karen Coughlin and Danielle Sullivan; back row, from left, nurses Susan Baga and Robin Medeiros, mental health worker Mark Augustine, nurses Irmas Dure, Jesse Hill and Lisa Hicks-Nolette, mental health worker Jen Fountain and nurses Rose Burrell and Susan Crossman stand in front of the sign at the entrance for Taunton State Hospital.

By Marc Larocque

Staff Writer

Posted Jan 29, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Taunton —

There are 410 nurses, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, psychologists, mental health workers, housekeepers, campus police, groundskeepers and other kinds of workers at Taunton State Hospital who are expected to either relocate their families to central Massachusetts, make costly and time consuming commutes, or get a new job by the end of the year.

"It’s going to have a profound effect on the workers," said Jim Durkin, who represents 190 Taunton State employees who are part of the American Federal, State, County and Municipal Employee (AFSCME) Council 93. "The state will tell you that they are not eliminating the beds but are simply relocating. That gives the impression that workers aren’t going  to be losing jobs because of this. But we don’t see that happening."

On Tuesday, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration announced its plans to close Taunton State Hospital by the end of the year, citing budget constraints and the opening of a new psychiatric facility in Worcester. There are 390 full-time employees, but Patrick said all workers there would be offered positions at the new Worcester hospital and at a facility in Tewksbury.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and Patrick’s office did not respond on Friday to several requests for interviews about the closing of Taunton State Hospital, but on Tuesday State Mental Health Commissioner Barbara Leadholm met with nurses and told the public that she acknowledges the announcement may be difficult take.

"I do recognize that geographically people are responding to the change that Taunton State Hospital will close," Leadholm said.

While all the workers will face difficulty because of the closing of Taunton State, many who spoke about the issue said their biggest concern was the trouble it would bring for the mental health patients who consistently filled 169 beds at the hospital.

"The staff are saying, what are happening to these poor patients?" said Robert Carey, a social worker at Taunton State’s forensic evaluation unit who has worked for DMH for 32 years. "Patients have said, what will happen to staff and their families? And I don’t think the Commonwealth has looked at that piece of it, how much of a negative effect it will have on patients, staff and both their families."

In respect to the effect on employees, Carey said the relocation of jobs will disrupt the lives of many workers’ families, who have grown up and made their lives in the Taunton area, and many won’t be able to make it work.

"We have families who for generations have worked at this facility for 150 years," Carey said. "For some people it is very difficult to think about driving an hour and a half to work, as opposed to working where you live. Working where you live also gives a much better connection to where you work, because you are part of the community. Patients benefit from that feeling of community we have in Taunton.  It’s just going to be really unfortunate."

Representing nearly 100 registered nurses and health professionals who work at Taunton State Hospital as the vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Karen Coughlin called the move "cold hearted" at a time when there is more need than ever for mental health services. Coughlin said the announcement was hard to take for the workers at Taunton State, some who have worked there as long as 20 years or more.

"It’s very difficult," Coughlin said. "They give very good care at this hospital. They truly and honestly care for patients. They do it for very little money. They don’t get paid that much. DMH is reassuring everyone will have a job. To me, that’s just a matter of twisting words around, to perhaps make them feel better about what they are doing."

Contact Marc Larocque at mlarocqu@tauntongazette.com


Taunton State Hospital offers years of service and healing

Photos

Taunton State Hospital nurses 1800s

Submitted photo

Nurses at Taunton State Hospital work in a ward in the 1800s in the now-demolished Kirkbride building.

By Marc Larocque

Staff Writer

Posted Jan 29, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Taunton —

The first patient was admitted to Taunton State Hospital on April 7, 1854, and in the span of eight weeks it received 250 patients that were treated for mental health issues.

It was the second institution of its kind that was built by the government in Massachusetts, after Worcester State Hospital, established in 1833, became dangerously overcrowded. Now, Taunton State, originally referred to as the Taunton Lunatic Asylum, is set to be shuttered by the end of the year by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, while the old Worcester State Hospital will be closed in July — both making way for a new centralized state hospital in Worcester.

Former Taunton Mayor Charles Crowley, who is an expert on the history of the Silver City, said  it is a shame to see an institution with such deep roots in the community to become closed.

Crowley said that Taunton State, built in 1853 at the cost of $151,742 on a 154-acre farm north of the center of town, grew into what was essentially a city within a city.

"It’s on a hill in which fresh air and sunlight was part of thought at the time to have therapeutic value," said Crowley, who opposed the closing of Taunton State because of the effect on loved ones trying to visit patients there. "It was quite a large institution. It had its own golf course. All kinds of amenities. It was almost a self-contained city with gardens and everything else."

Design and its inspiration

The main facility at Taunton State during most of its years was a Kirkbride-style hospital building, constructed according to the vision of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride. Kirkbride’s concept of moral treatment emphasized a natural environment, with a structure based on two wings with tiered wards to segregate residents based on sex and severity of symptoms.

The architect was Elbridge Boyden, whose specialty was cast iron used as a functional and decorative medium.

The Kirkbride building — which was abandoned largely abandoned in 1975 and was demolished after a fire in 2006 — was surmounted by a dome rising 70 above the roof, allowing for a panoramic view of the community and a view reaching the blue hills of Norfolk County. It also later featured a rotunda with twin stairwells along with a skylight overhead.

By 1873 the legislature appropriated funds for the enlargement of the hospital because of overcrowding with about 400 patients, and a series of construction projects grew the campus between 1887 and 1906, before even more construction in the 1930s, and the development of juvenile facilities, crisis centers, sick wards and on-grounds group homes.

Tales from Taunton State

Taunton historian William Hanna said one of the more interesting parts of Taunton State’s history is the early days when mental health treatment was not as advanced.

"Places like Taunton State became an place for confinement for immigrants who were troublesome, particularly the Irish," Hanna said, explaining evidence of mental illness was often not found.

Hanna said in the early days of Taunton State, pharmacology hadn’t been developed yet, and treatment was often experimental, involving water treatment or shock therapy.

"Lots of those people stayed there for life," Hanna said. "There was no relief for them."

Another interesting facet to the hospital’s history, Hanna said, are the interesting characters who have lived there over the years.

One example is Jane Toppan, a serial killer nurse who confessed to 11 murders in 1901, involving fatal doses of pain medication and poisoning, before being confined to Taunton State for the rest of her life. "Jolly Jane," as she was referred to, reportedly lied in bed with many of her victims as they died.

Taunton State also now has a reputation as a haunted facility within the world of so-called paranormal research. Many videos can be found on YouTube of people creeping around the abandoned Kirkbride building.

"Whenever you go to a place like that with so much trauma over the years, such a concentration of negativity energy, the factors are right and it’s going to get trapped in that location," said Tim Weisberg, host of Spooky Southcoast Radio, which is broadcast from Fairhaven.

Most recent renovations

In the 1990s, a $19 million capital improvement plan was initiated at Taunton State. By December 1993, it received accreditation from for the first time since the mid-1970s from the Health Care Financing Administration and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said one of the most recent improvements was the completion of a power plant facility.

"They just got done doing a whole new power plant for the facility," Pacheco said. "Taunton State Hospital is historic. It doesn’t mean that because it is historic it is inadequate. As a matter of fact, just the opposite."

Now, Taunton State workers await the closing of the hospital, while members of the local delegation of state representatives and state senators are working to try to stop those plans.

The Taunton State Hospital Archives Committee has worked to chronicle the history of Taunton State, including an illustrated  book called "Taunton State Hospital: 150 Years of Tradition, Service and Healing."

Contact Marc Larocque at mlarocqu@tauntongazette.com

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