News & Events

Telegram – As I See It – Taunton closing shortsighted

In the same issue of the Telegram announcing the reduction in services at St. Vs , there is an excellent Op Ed by legislators in Worcester calling for Taunton State to be saved and for a study to look at the larger mental health crisis.  The timing is perfect and kudos to Sandy Ellis for making this happen. 

Taunton closing shortsighted

By Harriette L. Chandler, James J. O’Day, and Joseph M. Petty
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“The continuous erosion and de-funding of mental health services in the commonwealth is concerning for a number of reasons.”

The Department of Mental Health’s decision to close Taunton State Hospital and shift hundreds of patients for care in our already overburdened community with no warning or even the most rudimentary analysis of its impact on the state’s mental health system was an ill-advised, shortsighted decision that the Legislature must address immediately.

As the senator who served on the commission that decided the fate of Worcester State Hospital, a state representative who serves on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and the mayor of Worcester, we feel that the proposed closure is just the latest example of the commonwealth not living up to the promise of mental health parity.

DMH’s plan is to shift the Taunton State patient population to our soon-to-be-opened Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, the facility for which the plan has been to house patients from Worcester State Hospital, and the previously closed Westboro State Hospital.

Despite the fact that DMH is telling the public that the Taunton closure has always been part of the overall plan when the new Worcester facility was completed, those legislators and stakeholders who were intimately involved with the planning of our new psychiatric hospital, and with DMH over the last decade, know full well that our facility was never intended to replace the care and services provided by Taunton State Hospital for residents of Southeastern Massachusetts.

With the closure of Taunton, a hospital that received significant tax monies for renovations only a few years ago, more families would lose the right to participate in their loved ones’ recovery and rehabilitation. Many families do not have the means to travel from Taunton to Worcester independently, and our state’s public transportation system makes it nearly impossible.

Having family members and friends available to support those with mental illness is a crucial element to speedy and full recovery.

The continuous erosion and de-funding of mental health services in the commonwealth is concerning for a number of reasons.

While the population of those with mental illness in Massachusetts is not decreasing, the number of beds that are necessary to provide quality and comprehensive care to the mentally ill is reduced.

Just last year, UMass Health Alliance closed a 15-bed psychiatric unit in Fitchburg. Those patients are now cared for in our Worcester-based facilities. At this time we have yet to receive a commitment from St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester to keep their 15-bed psychiatric unit open beyond 2012.

According to reports from clinicians and mental health advocates, patients seeking mental health treatment languish in hospital emergency rooms all over the state, including at our Worcester hospitals, anywhere from four hours to, in some cases, for up to three weeks waiting for a bed or a mental health service somewhere in the state.

In private-sector, acute mental health units all over the state, there are many patients who have been on waiting lists to get into our state hospital facilities for well over 100 days.

In our state hospital facilities, patients who are ready for discharge aren’t able to leave because there are insufficient community resources for them.

Sadly, untreated psychiatric patients end up in jail or are roaming our streets and boarding in our homeless shelters for want of proper care and treatment to manage their psychiatric conditions. DMH denies any shortage of mental health beds and community resources, but the evidence proving otherwise seems obvious to us.

When the administration proposed the closure of Worcester State Hospital in 2003, the Legislature authorized a special commission to study the feasibility of constructing a new DMH inpatient facility in Massachusetts in 2004.

The commission studied both Westboro State and Worcester State hospitals and the needs of the mentally ill, and decided that a new facility was needed and would best be located in Worcester.

Taunton State Hospital, and the patients and staff there, deserve no less of a deliberative process.

Before we allow yet another closure of a mental health facility in our state which could cause irreparable harm to an already fragile system and population of citizens, it is imperative that we understand the true scope of mental health needs in our state. Such a study must be thorough, transparent and independent.

Massachusetts once again faces a very difficult budget year. Finding the resources needed to prevent the closure of Taunton Hospital is a steep challenge.

Nonetheless, we fully support the need to “stop and study,” an initiative which calls for preventing the closure of Taunton State Hospital and any other service until an independent and comprehensive study is completed.

Only then can we ensure that every citizen, no matter where they live in Massachusetts, receives the services — and respect — they deserve.