News & Events

Coalition to Save Worcester State Hospital

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A campaign has been launched to save Worcester State Hospital. Yesterday, representatives of the Massachusetts Nurses Association joined State Representative Vincent A. Pedone (D-Worcester), who hosted a rally and press conference to announce the formation of the Coalition to Save Worcester State Hospital, an alliance of citizens, community members, family members of patients of Worcester State Hospital, nurses, allied health professionals and employees of the hospital, local, state and federal political leaders, mental health advocates (including the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally ill), and labor and community groups. The coalition is fighting to preserve the vital and comprehensive mental health services Worcester State Hospital provides to patients and families struggling to manage the most acute and debilitating forms of mental illness.

At the event, Rep, Pedone announced that he would be introducing an amendment to the state budget to prevent the closing of the facility, which is the oldest and most respected psychiatric hospitals in the nation. In addition to announcing the filing of the amendment to save the hospital, the coalition also used the event to launch a petition drive throughout the state to gather signatures in support of the campaign. Worcester State Hospital is a state of the art facility providing services to patients from throughout Central Mass. and from as far away as the New York border.

Below is from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette about the press conference.

WSH supporters rally against closing
200 protest WSH closing
Lee Hammel

About 200 union members, patients’ family members and other advocates gathered at Worcester State Hospital yesterday to denounce the governor’s proposal to close the nation’s first state hospital for people with mental illness.

The rally gathered steam and enthusiasm as state Rep. Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, announced he will file an amendment to the state budget today that would prevent closing the 430-employee hospital until the administration reports to the state Legislature on how it will provide alternative services to the hospital’s patients.

Mr. Pedone said similar amendments were filed in 1995 and 1996 when the Weld administration tried and failed to close the state hospital.

The crowd, forming the nucleus of "The Coalition to Save Worcester State Hospital," cheered loudly when Carole J. Deneault, president of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 137, said, "The place will never close, and shame on anyone who tries to do it."

Noting that the administration said it will take most of next year to close Worcester State Hospital, Mr. Pedone said that means the $13 million the administration says would be saved in next year’s budget through closing Worcester State Hospital will not be there. "It’s a farce," Mr. Pedone, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said of Gov. Romney’s budget proposal.

"And it says that you in the mental health community are not a priority," he said.

State Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester – the only other legislator present for the press conference that was held outdoors on WSH grounds while the Legislature was in session in Boston – added, "We stopped it in the ’90s. We will stop it in 2003."

The state Department of Mental Health said that it will spend $2.5 million placing the 50 Worcester State Hospital patients it said are ready to live in the community, with the remainder of the hospital’s 156 patients transferred to Westboro State Hospital or Tewksbury State Hospital.

While a hospital employee nearby displayed a sign saying, "Gov. Romney, Where Are the Community Homes?" Mrs. Chandler referred to the patients to be discharged and asked "Where will they go?" She noted the difficulty in getting group homes sited in neighborhoods.

Mrs. Chandler said the governor is "long on ideas. I would love to hear the details."

Joseph Bisceglia, an aide to U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, said that more than $10 million has been sunk into Worcester State Hospital’s infrastructure in just the past two years.

Sandy Ellis, a registered nurse in the St. Vincent Hospital acute psychiatric ward, said there already are 15 people on a waiting list to get into Worcester State Hospital, and some of them have to wait as long as five months to get in. The system becomes clogged as people cannot leave the St. Vincent acute wards for the Worcester State Hospital wards they need, and that results in patients waiting in emergency rooms for the psychiatric service they need, said Ms. Ellis, who is a board member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

"These are not throw-away people," she said. If the state lacks resources for them "we, all of us, need to give permission to our legislators to increase revenue," she said, and Mr. Pedone echoed it.

Anthony G. Terry, a Worcester State Hospital registered nurse, said he has "seen many financial cuts in mental health funding, even during times of great economic growth." Two or three months ago the hospital completed the closing of a 20-bed ward and "we’ve had extreme difficulty in discharging patients to the community because of lack of resources" there.

While the Department of Mental Health is adamant that it will not discharge patients to a homeless shelter, he said its policies encourage hospitals with acute psychiatric wards such as UMass Memorial Medical Center and St. Vincent to do that. When acute hospitals keep psychiatric patients while awaiting chronic-care beds in Worcester State Hospital, that stay is not paid for by insurance.

"So the patients end up getting sent back where they came from, if that’s even an option. Otherwise they are discharged to a homeless shelter," he said, and can pose "extreme risks to themselves and others" because of decisions driven for financial rather than clinical reasons, Mr. Terry said.

That will be exacerbated with the disappearance of Worcester State Hospital beds, he said. Jo-Ellen M. Stone of Worcester, who has been hospitalized three times with mental illness, pleaded, "We can be productive. But we might need help."

If Mr. Romney succeeds in closing the hospital, said Dr. Anthony Buonomo, hospital trustees president and father of a patient there, "we in a few years will be asking ourselves why and how did we allow you to be successful."