Advocacy group cites decision to close Taunton State as latest example of Massachusetts balancing budget on the backs of people with mental illness
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
February/March 2012 Edition
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Massachusetts), a grassroots organization of more than 2,000 members, is outraged once again that the commonwealth is balancing its budget on the backs of people with mental illness. The latest illustration of this disturbing trend is Governor Patrick’s decision to close Taunton State Hospital. NAMI Massachusetts believes that the commonwealth is not fulfilling its obligation to provide a full spectrum of services for people with mental illness that includes both community-based services and inpatient services. For the years 2009–2012, Massachusetts had the dubious distinction of ranking 11th among the states in percentage cuts from mental health funding. Among the New England states, four increased their spending, with Massachusetts decreasing its spending the most, by 8.1 percent.
The board, staff and membership of NAMI Massachusetts have become increasingly alarmed that the safety net for individuals with serious mental illness is woefully inadequate. The closure of Taunton State Hospital would fundamentally disrupt the treatment of 169 patients and the lives of their family members who will now have to travel long distances to either Tewksbury or Worcester to stay connected to their loved ones. For families who do not own cars, the inadequacy of public transportation will make access difficult if not impossible. For family members with cars, longer distances and travel time, greater expenses, and limited visiting hours will prevent frequent visits. The Department of Mental Health must mitigate the impact of the move on patients and families.
Building a new Worcester hospital (now the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital) was never designed to replace Taunton State Hospital. When Worcester State Hospital funds were approved by the Massachusetts Legislature as part of the 2004 budget, there was no expectation that Taunton State Hospital would close. The new hospital in Worcester was designed to serve patients from Central Massachusetts (the old Worcester State Hospital and now closed Westboro State Hospital). DMH planned for an overall statewide bed capacity of 740 beds—not the current 626-bed capacity.
Since the number of psychiatric beds seems to be shrinking based on the economic needs of the commonwealth and not the health care needs of people with mental illness, NAMI Massachusetts calls for an independent study examining the publicly funded mental health system to determine whether the community mental health system can support an inpatient capacity of only 626 continuing care beds. Minimally, this study should take into account the current pressures in general hospital emergency rooms, the number of individuals who are discharged to the streets, the number of new community-based residential support services that have been added and any other relevant information.
As the commonwealth touts its health care image on the national stage, the deep cuts to the mental health budget tell a different story. Numbers speak louder than words. This proposed cut ignores the needs of people with mental illness