News & Events

MNA Opposed Recommendation of DMH Commission Calling for Reduction in Mental Health Beds

The MNA vehemently opposes the recommendations contained in a report issued this week by the Department of Mental Health Inpatient Study Commission, which calls for the accelerated closing of Westborough State Hospital, the closure of as many as 120 additional beds throughout the state, and the closure of Quincy Mental Health Center. The report comes on the heels of devastating budget cuts to DMH, which have resulted in layoffs of staff, closure of beds and the elimination of more than one quarter of the state’s case managers, along with dramatic cuts in funding for community health services. The report is nothing less than a blueprint for the destruction of the mental health care safety net in Massachusetts that will lead to unnecessary suffering for hundreds of the state’s most vulnerable mentally ill residents. To review MNA’s full position on this issue, you can view and read testimony delivered to the commission by MNA Unit 7 Chair Karen Coughlin. View the full Commission report. Below you will find a story on the report that appeared in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which features a comment by an MNA spokesperson.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Panel: Accelerate state hospital closing


A panel recommends that the state Department of Mental Health consider closing Westboro State Hospital even before the spring 2012 opening of a psychiatric facility in Worcester that will replace the aging state hospital, along with one in Worcester.

The 15-member DMH Inpatient Study Commission made the recommendation after months of study and public hearings because of a $13 million deficit in the Department of Mental Health that remains even after budget cuts needed because of the evaporation of state revenues during the past year.

Although the panel did not fix a date for the proposed hospital closing, it said its recommendation should serve as a blueprint for the current fiscal year. A Westboro State Hospital employee, who asked that her name not be used, said that employees came away from meetings with DMH officials believing the closing could happen in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2010.

However, Juan Martinez, spokesman of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said the report does not recommend closure by 2010, only that the 2012 closure be accelerated. He said he could not say which direction will be taken by the administration, which received the report only this week.

The commission also recommends a reduction of 120 beds from the DMH adult inpatient capacity of 836 beds. The remaining 716 beds would be 24 fewer than the Department of Mental Health recommended in a 2004 study.

The commission found 200 people in the public mental health system are ready for discharge but are unable to be because there is inadequate support available in the community. That finding comes about 2-1/4 years after the Department of Mental Health declared it had cleared its hospitals of 268 patients that it identified in 2004 as not needing to be there.

The study commission, chaired by former DMH Commissioner Marylou Sudders and former state Rep. James T. Brett, laid out three conditions necessary for closing Westboro State Hospital, which has 162 adult beds and 30 adolescent beds. It will require $12 million to $14 million from trust funds or economic stimulus money “to commence the deliberate and careful planning and discharge of individuals clinically ready for discharge.”

Those services need to be supported in the future from the money saved from the inpatient beds that would be closed. And “the commonwealth agrees to maintenance of effort that ensures current levels of resources for adult public mental health services,” the report said.

“Otherwise,” Ms. Sudders said in an interview last night, “the commonwealth will have reneged in its commitment to supporting adults with mental illness and their families.”

Fourteen of the 15 commission members approved the report, with James W. Durkin of AFSCME Council 93 dissenting. The union said that with 200 patients unable to leave continuing care hospitals because there is not enough community treatment capacity, there are other people on a waiting list to get into any hospital beds that are vacated.

With the state already having laid off a quarter of DMH case managers who care for clients in the community, David Schildmeier of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which did not sit on the study committee, said, “it’s the state abandoning its responsibility for people with severe mental illness.” Without more revenue — from taxes if necessary, he said, “these people are going to end up in shelters, they are going to end up in your neighborhood, on your doorstep.”

State Rep. George N. Peterson, R-Grafton, said DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm contacted him and others who represent Westboro. He said the recommendations meet a “laudable goal. It remains to be seen” if the department can follow them and meet its commitment to place each client in the most appropriate setting, whether that is in a hospital or in the community.

The study commission also recommended changes in state law to shorten the deadlines for evaluating defendants sent to state hospitals by the courts. That would reduce the number of hospital beds dedicated to such patients, who currently use about 20 percent of the beds in psychiatric continuing care units.