President's Column: Fighting—and winning—the good fight at Taunton State Hospital
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
July/August 2012 Edition
By Donna Kelly-Williams
It was a long time coming … too long most of us would say. But on the afternoon of July 12, when it was clear that the doors of Taunton State Hospital would remain open, we knew we had won a fight that was bigger than us: we had won a fight on behalf of all those who struggle with mental illness, as well those who care for them.
With Taunton’s doors remaining open, it means:
- The region’s mental health safety net will stay intact
- Area residents will continue to have access to essential mental health care services
- Top-notch RNs and health care workers will continue providing stellar care to patients
- And it also means that legislators recognized how essential Taunton State is to its local community, for it was their votes that ultimately led to our July 12 victory
The latter part of this equation didn’t occur in a vacuum though. It happened because our members, friends, supporters and staffers saw a need and rose to the occasion. Eliminating an entire hospital worth of beds and services would have further decimated the state’s already fragile mental health care system. Of that, none of us needed convincing. And so, a massive campaign to save Taunton State and mental health services in Massachusetts got underway.
It was a campaign that empowered members, patients and families. That could be seen at the campaign’s first major public event, which occurred in March. It was a clamorous rally, held at the State House’s Gardner Auditorium, where hundreds of supporters cried out that the Legislature needed to “stop and study” what effect the Taunton closure would have on patients and communities.
Meanwhile, advocates fanned out across the state as part of an enormous petition drive. They collected thousands of signatures from citizens who supported keeping Taunton State open and who wanted the state to conduct a comprehensive study on the commonwealth’s mental health services before senselessly plowing ahead.
At the same time, the MNA put together a tightly knit crew of patients, family members, advocates, labor supporters and members. These individuals walked the halls of the State House several times each week (for months on end!) taking advantage of every opportunity to have face-to-face discussions with members of both the House and Senate. Their goal was to get legislators to see and understand the real Taunton State—and to understand how devastating its closure would be to patients and the greater community.
All of these efforts, paired with a flood of postcard mailings, email messages, phone calls and letters to those on Beacon Hill, set in motion a sea change. And after six long months of fighting the good fight, the MNA, on behalf of its members and patients, was able to celebrate one if its most impressive recent successes: saving Taunton State Hospital. Did winning the fight come easily? No. But were we prepared for the fight and willing to take it on? Absolutely. And without doubt, we’ll do it all again if necessary … whether that means fighting the good fight at Taunton State Hospital or, next time, in your own backyard, on behalf of your hospital.