MNA plays key role in saving Taunton State Hospital


Legislature unanimously overrides Gov. Patrick’s veto

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
July/August 2012 Edition

  Success! Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), above, and Rep. Patricia Haddad, (D-Somerset), below center, were instrumental in leading the effort to keep Taunton State Hospital open. MNA President Donna Kelly-Williams, above left and below right, and MNA Vice President Karen Coughlin, above right and below left, were all smiles after the House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto.

On July 12, the Massachusetts Senate cast a unanimous vote to override Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto of funds necessary to keep Taunton State Hospital open, and voted to override his veto of an independent study on the mental health needs of commonwealth residents.

The senate action followed unanimous override votes by the House of Representatives, thus ensuring the survival of Taunton State Hospital, with 45 beds, while providing the state with an opportunity (through the independent study) to formulate a plan to address the serious and growing mental health crisis in Massachusetts.

“We are absolutely thrilled with this vote and what it could mean to the future of the mental health system in Massachusetts,” said Karen Coughlin, RN, vice president of the MNA and a nurse at Taunton State Hospital for 28 years. “While there is much work to be done, the Legislature’s actions represent an important first step in an effort to restore the integrity of our tattered mental health safety net.”

Taunton State Hospital is one of only six state-operated mental health facilities in Massachusetts to care for people suffering from acute and chronic mental illness, including providing care to some of the state’s most violent clients. If the closing went forward, clients and families would have been expected to travel 50 to 100 miles for care in Worcester or Tewksbury at facilities that are already overburdened. In addition, the closure plan was initiated at a time when the state has lost more than 200 mental health inpatient beds at private hospitals, going from 834 beds in 2010 to the current total of 626 beds, and also at a time when the state has slashed its mental health care spending more than any state in New England.

“Mental health services in our state are inadequate and those seeking treatment are often unable to access needed care,” Coughlin explained. “Our emergency departments are overcrowded with psychiatric patients who cannot access needed inpatient and community services. Our inpatient psychiatric units and/or beds are being eliminated.” While the MNA and other advocacy groups had pushed for retaining all 169 beds at Taunton State Hospital, Coughlin stated, “we are confident the independent evaluation of the system approved by the legislature today will validate the need for restoring those beds, as well as an additional increase in beds and community services to meet the actual needs of the state’s residents.”

Following the vote, Coughlin praised the work of Sen. Marc Pacheo (D-Taunton) and House Speaker Pro Tem Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset), who worked tirelessly for months with their fellow legislators and public officials, advocates, caregivers, patients, families, labor organizations and the communities impacted by the closure plan to ensure not only the survival of Taunton State Hospital, but also to ensure a plan that will address the long term needs of the state’s mentally ill.

“We are proud of the work of our elected officials on this issue,” Coughlin concluded. “We thank them for standing up for those most in need of our protection and care.”