News & Events

The drumbeat of media coverage supporting our call to Save Taunton State Hospital and increase access to mental health services continues

Families: hospital closing will cause ‘hardship’

By Cynthia Mccormick

February 05, 2012

A Cape legislator and advocates for the mentally ill are criticizing Gov. Deval Patrick’s plans to shutter Taunton State Hospital by year’s end.

Critics say the closure would force families to drive longer distances to visit loved ones, since the nearest long-term facilities would be in Worcester and Tewksbury.

"It’s really a short-sighted move," state Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, said.

The Cape chapter of an advocacy group for the families of people with mental illness, Cape Cod National Alliance on Mental Illness, plans to email legislators to protest the shuttering of the 157-year-old mental hospital, David Munsell of Barnstable said.

"It’s a real shame to close the facility there," Munsell, president of Cape Cod NAMI, said.

"The southeast (region) of the state would have nothing," Karen Curtis of Harwich said. She visits her 22-year-old son at Taunton State Hospital once a week.

State Department of Mental Health officials say they plan to move 124 of Taunton State’s 169 inpatient beds to a new state-of-the-art facility in Worcester that is opening this summer.

The DMH says it will transfer an additional 45 beds to Tewksbury Hospital and close Taunton by Dec. 31.

The number of inpatient beds in the state system will remain the same at 626, outgoing DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm said.

She said the state is also trying to focus more on outpatient and supportive services through an initiative called Community First.

$3M for support services

For the second year in a row, Patrick is adding $3 million in the state budget for community support services, some of which would go to Cape Cod, Leadholm said, to help pay for places like crisis centers and group homes.

She said there are 16 people from Cape Cod at Taunton State.

Today is Leadholm’s last day. Marcia Fowler takes over as commissioner Monday.

Advocates for the mentally ill said the state should be adding inpatient beds, not centralizing and consolidating them.

They say the state’s closure of Taunton is a slap in the face to this less-populated section of the commonwealth.

"I’m shocked," Suzanne Sullivan of Brewster, a board member on Cape Cod NAMI, said.

Five years ago when a family member was at Taunton State Hospital for a year, Sullivan made the drive of just over an hour in each direction once a week.

Traveling to Worcester or Tewksbury would take more than two hours each way.

"It will be an extreme hardship for families," Sullivan said.

Families visit their loved ones at Taunton State Hospital for social reasons and also for team meetings with medical staff.

"People with biological brain illness deserve the same level of family and friend support as people who are dealing with other long-term illness, such as heart disease or diabetes," Sullivan said. "Support from family and friends is essential to recovery."

Sullivan said she applauds the idea of more supportive services in the community, especially since better medications are resulting in fewer institutionalizations.

"However, some people will always need hospital care," she said. "You need a full continuum to deal with this illness."

Worcester will close in July

The state’s plan is to close Worcester State Hospital in July and at the same time open the new Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital.

The state already shuttered nearby Westboro State Hospital in 2010 in advance of the opening of the new mental health facility in Worcester.

But closing Taunton was not supposed to be part of the plan, David Schildmeier of the Massachusetts Nurses Association said.

He said the governor is closing the Taunton hospital to make up a shortfall related to the new building.

Taunton State Hospital is known as a facility that serves severely mentally ill patients, including people accused of crimes who need to be assessed to determine whether they are competent to stand trial.

Leadholm said plans are to conduct so-called forensic exams at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain once Taunton closes.

It would make more sense to do the forensic exams at the correctional facility in Bridgewater, Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said.

He also said the state should be increasing mental health services instead of cutting them. Most people who end up in criminal court have an addiction "and/or a component of mental illness," O’Keefe said.

The average length of stay at Taunton is less than a year, though some elderly patients have resided there for years, said Karen Coughlin, a nurse at Taunton State Hospital and MNA vice president.

She is one of 410 people employed at Taunton State Hospital. Worcester State Hospital has 426 employees.

Patients at Taunton range in age from 19 to 80, and the units are usually full, Coughlin said. "We run at 95 to 100 percent capacity at all times. We always have a waiting list of patients that are coming to us from other facilities," includingCape and Islands Mental Health Center at Pocasset.

Coughlin said it’s fine to talk about releasing patients into the community, but the fact is there are not enough outpatient support services for the mentally ill.

"It falls apart once they’re out there," she said.

The proposal to close Taunton "is purely based on budgetary needs as opposed to the clinical needs of patients," Coughlin said.

The main building at Taunton may be more than a century old, but "we are updated," she said. "It’s not a snake pit. It’s not a warehouse."

Munsell said he was pleasantly surprised during a recent tour of the $302 million facility.

A campus-like setting

It’s a campus-like setting with a new recreation center, a computer center and greenhouses, Munsell said.

"We’re very displeased" with the Patrick’s administration intention to close the facility, he said. "This would be a real downfall for us."

The state expects to save an estimated $20 million by closing the facility.

State Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, told a group of about 200 people gathered at a rally in Taunton last week to fight to prevent the closing of the facility. Pacheco said every community in Southeastern Massachusetts will be contacted about supporting the move to keep the hospital open.

He also asked those in the audience to write letters to their elected representatives and oppose the closing.

Editorial in New Bedford Standard Times/Southcoast Today

Our View: Consolidation works against the treatment of mentally ill

February 03, 2012 12:00 AM

Only time will tell whether closing Taunton State Hospital, the region’s only public mental health hospital, will produce the $20 million in savings the state Department of Mental Health says it will.

But this much is known.

Every day, 169 suffering people and their worried friends and families will not have a local option where they can find care.

We agree entirely with state Rep. David B. Sullivan of Fall River, who said it best at a rally against the closing last week: "It’s not fair. It’s wrong."

The mentally ill are among the most vulnerable and least politically powerful populations in Massachusetts or any state, and that is why every time the state has a budget problem, the mentally ill face the prospect of lost services.

Unlike the myriad other special interest groups, from chambers of commerce to state universities, the mentally ill have neither the money nor the political clout to fight back very hard or effectively.

In this case, Massachusetts would be shutting down a hospital that has served Southeastern Massachusetts for 157 years, forcing the patients to new state facilities in Worcester or Tewksbury, more than doubling the distance that patients’ families have to travel.

The shutdown also would cost many, if not all of the 400 jobs at the Taunton hospital.

There are no guarantees that closing the hospital will produce anywhere near the savings the DMH says it will. Already, people are waiting weeks or months for a bed in Taunton to open. Eliminating beds there will only add to that problem.

Further, it will exacerbate the problem at the region’s community hospitals, which already handle most of the acute mental health problems. And outpatient treatment centers cannot be expected to handle the additional chronic care problems that closing the Taunton hospital would create.

Finally, closing Taunton would add significantly to the burden of the families of the mentally ill patients forced to move from Taunton to facilities in Worcester or Tewksbury. As a result, it is entirely reasonable to believe that families will visit less and be less able to assist with their loved ones’ treatment plans.

Few of us would argue against making government more efficient in the manner in which it provides services, but care for the mentally ill is not like running a motor vehicle service office or a regional rail line. Caring for the sick is best done with the help of family, which is in no way supported by the model of consolidated, centralized mental health services.

The region’s legislative delegation is against the Taunton closing, and a rally opposing the DMH plan turned out about 200 people last week.

We urge the region’s elected officials and social service agencies to speak with one voice against the plan to close Taunton State Hospital.