News & Events

Letters and editor in support of TSH

 OUR VIEW: Region must join forces to stop Taunton State Hospital closure

By Anonymous
Editorial Board
Posted Feb 01, 2012 @ 08:29 PM

The Patrick Administration’s plan to close Taunton State Hospital by year’s end is wrong-headed and ill conceived. Such a closure would certainly affect the availability of inpatient mental health care provided to area residents. It would further hurt workers and the struggling local economy, and the plan to transfer TSH residents to other distant facilities could be detrimental to both patients and their families.

Taunton State Hospital is the only institution of its kind in the region, and the closest facility for residents of southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands. While some outpatient services offered on the TSH campus are expected to remain in the Taunton area, the hospital’s 169 inpatient beds for those with acute and chronic mental illness would be transferred to other state facilities, in Worcester or Tewksbury — both more than 50 miles from the SouthCoast.

In 2004, as the state Department of Mental Health planned to close Westboro State Hospital, a budget provision approved by the Legislature required an Inpatient Study Report — a stipulation area legislators indicated they may propose prior to any TSH closure. That 2004 report stated that when considering the reconfiguration, decision-making criteria would be based upon impact on clients and their families, quality of care, adherence to evidence-based practices and cost/benefit ratio of change.

None of that seems to have been taken into consideration for Taunton State Hospital. If the state’s intent is to shift populations from other parts of the state to the soon-to-open, $302 million state-of-the-art Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (where 124 of the TSH patients would be sent under the new plan), why not close the Tewksbury State Hospital instead of TSH?

That facility — built in 1854, the same year as Taunton State Hospital — is a bit closer to Worcester, has apparently not been renovated since 1956 and offers 144 beds, which must not currently be filled since it is able to absorb 45 of Taunton’s 169 patients. By contrast, the state spent millions of dollars to renovate Taunton State Hospital in 1996 and recently constructed a new power plant for the facility. Following the renovations, Taunton State Hospital has been accredited by the Health Care Financing Administration and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Furthermore, a 2009 Department of Mental Health Inpatient Study Commission report blasted conditions at Tewksbury State Hospital. According to the report, “The ‘rules’ governing this unit are different from all other DMH inpatient units and are limiting and stigmatizing. During public testimony, one person continually referred to individuals with mental illness treated at Tewksbury as ‘inmates.’” So this troubled facility is where the state intends to send 45 Taunton patients?

Meanwhile, forensic evaluations ordered by the courts when a defendent’s mental capacity is in question, custody of the mentally ill and assistance in sentencing would have to be shifted from Taunton State Hospital to other state hospitals, which could overburden those facilities. The shift would also result in a greater expense throughout the criminal justice system for transporting defendants and further bog down the courts, according to a spokesman for Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter. That issue was not contested by a DMH official.

And the pain doesn’t stop there.

Cliff Robinson, Southeast Regional Director of DMH, acknowledged that the “bumping rights” held by state workers at Taunton State Hospital to take other unionized jobs from those with less seniority could cause a ripple effect of job losses or transfers in community-based mental health facilities in Taunton, Fall River, New Bedford, Brockton and on Cape Cod.

By closing the only inpatient public mental health facility in southeastern Massachusetts, the state will necessarily shift the burden elsewhere, overtaxing hospitals and private facilities and potentially even rendering treatment unaffordable or unattainable for the mentally ill. That point was not lost upon Southcoast Hospital Group, which has spoken out against the closure. TSH is already overcapacity, with 169 beds for 172 patients, including 18 adolescent beds. Young psychiatric patients especially ought to be housed near their parents and support structures.

The closure of Taunton State Hospital would have a devastating impact on the health care infrastructure of southeastern Massachusetts. There are clearly many lingering questions about this plan that DMH has yet to answer. Let’s hope that state legislators and residents are able to put up a united front against this plan, and state officials have the good sense and decency to reject it.

Letter to the Editor: Shaunna O’Connell a stalwart TSH defender

By Shaunna O’Connell
Posted Feb 03, 2012 @ 08:35 PM

I am writing to clarify some statements taken out of context in the Taunton Daily Gazette’s recent articles about the Taunton State Hospital.

Since I first got elected, there has been a constant threat due to budget constraints that officials in the Patrick administration want to close our local facility. During last year’s budget process, we were able to keep the facility open. But that didn’t mean the threat from the Patrick administration went away.

It was pretty obvious to me that we would have to have the same battle again this year. That’s why I was not surprised at the news. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t extremely disappointed. Over the past year, I have stayed in close touch with local officials and the TSH.

As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I am going to fight this proposal. The Patrick administration’s decision is short-sighted. The detrimental impacts to our community are numerous.

The Taunton State Hospital provides services that no other area facility does. Moreover, the long-term costs associated with closing this facility make it illogical. This will greatly impact our stressed social services and increase transportation costs.

In short, I will continue to work with our other area legislators to fight this ill-conceived plan by the Patrick Administration.

Shaunna O’Connell
State Representative

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