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Great Story in Worcester Telegram & Gazette About Legislative Support for Saving Taunton State Hospital, Distrust of Administration’s Position

Standoff over mental health care
Will new Worcester State Hospital suffer?

Some legislators say there are concerns about overburdening the new Worcester hospital if Taunton State Hospital is closed. (T&G File Photo/RICK CINCLAIR)


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BOSTON —  Legislators looking to postpone the closing of Taunton State Hospital and the transfer of its patients to community settings and the new Worcester State Hospital this summer are at a standoff with administration officials over the plans.

Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said yesterday she believes a Taunton closure will leave Southeastern Massachusetts without vital services for the mentally ill, but it would cost the state an additional $20 million next year to keep Taunton open.

“That is $20 million we did not expect, over and above the opening of Worcester. If it does close, what services are going to be there to make up for it?” she asked after a Statehouse meeting with mental health advocates.

“From what we have been shown to date, the community-based services that are supposed to be in Southeastern Massachusetts, I don’t know where they are. I know they are planning on some. But where are they? How many people are going to be accommodated?” she said, two of many questions still unanswered by the state Department of Mental Health.

She said it will leave that part of Massachusetts with a shortage of beds for acute patients.

“If you are acute, you can’t be there in a group setting. You need a locked facility, and our hospitals don’t have the capacity for those locked facilities. Cape Cod Hospital is way over capacity all the time,” she said, even with the Taunton hospital open.

“If you come from Martha’s Vineyard, you are going to Worcester,” she said, adding that anyone from the Cape will also see a long-distance transfer for hospitalization. She said there are also concerns about overburdening the new Worcester hospital.

“The Worcester hospital is wonderful. It is going to be great, because the idea is not to keep you institutionalized, but to better move you out” to community care, she said.

Administration officials claim there will be no overall reduction in the total of 626 beds for mental health patients as a result of the Taunton closure and no reduction in jobs as those hospital workers will be offered other positions.

In addition, according to a fact sheet issued yesterday by the Department of Mental Health, there will still be 360 acute care inpatient beds at general hospitals and private psychiatric hospitals in the southeastern part of the state. DMH officials also said they are allocating $9.9 million to add 80 new community placements for DMH patients needing continuing care and that the department will also help families with travel planning to visit patients relocated to Worcester.

Ms. Murray said the administration is sticking to their closure plan.

“It will have to be addressed in the budget, if the idea is to keep Taunton open,” she said.

Also voicing concern was state Rep. James J. O’Day, D-West Boylston, who said the Taunton closure is at the top of a long list of issues facing the state’s mental health system.

“Closure of Taunton State Hospital is just the latest example of the commonwealth’s assault on the mentally ill,” Mr. O’Day said. “With less beds and options for the mentally ill here, more people suffering mental illness end up in jail and do not receive the treatment they need and deserve,” he said.

If and when the Taunton hospital closes, he said, “More families will lose a way to participate in their loved ones’ recovery and rehabilitation. Many families do not have the means to travel to Worcester independently and our state public transportation system makes it nearly impossible.”

Mr. O’Day said he wants the state to focus on careful assessment and relocation of patients even if it costs more and still supports delaying the closure until better plans are in place for patients.