News & Events

Taunton State Hospital one step closer to closing after House vote

Taunton State Hospital one step closer to closing after House vote

By Charles Winokoor
Taunton Daily Gazette
Posted Apr 25, 2012 @ 11:21 PM

Taunton —

The House Ways and Means Committee’s late-night approval Tuesday of an amendment to its 2013 fiscal year budget — paving the way for the state to close Taunton State Hospital — has left local legislators with a bad taste in their mouth.

“I’m not happy with this amendment, and I’m unhappy there was no roll call,” said state Rep. Keiko Orrall, R-Lakeville.

Orrall said she was disappointed that “stop and study” legislation sponsored by fellow Republican Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, of Taunton, was not seriously considered.

The committee’s amendment instead tacitly accepted Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to close the state facility by year’s end, with a stipulation that $8.5 million be allocated to establish at least 30 inpatient beds within the state’s southeastern region.

The amendment also calls for the formation of a nine-member commission to study the state’s mental health care system.

Orrall said she’s particularly dissatisfied that a quick “voice vote” was taken just before midnight after an arduous day and night of working on a compromise.

“It happened very quickly, like you blinked and it was done,” she said.

Asked why she and other local legislators eventually went along with the vote, following a series of closed-door sessions, Orrall said they “were encouraged to work with this amendment and approve it.”

A House voice vote negates the possibility of recording who voted against or in favor of a measure.

There has been strong opposition in the Taunton region to the governor’s plan to close down Taunton State Hospital — a move that will affect 400 workers and eliminate more than 160 inpatient beds in the city.

If passed in its current form, it will shift most of those patients and jobs to a new facility in Worcester with a smaller number transferring to an older site in Tewksbury.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said the House amendment is unacceptable.

“It’s not a compromise we can live with in terms of this issue,” he said.

And Pacheco chastised local and regional representatives for not speaking up before the final voice vote.

“It’s inexcusable to let that language stand as it is,” he said, adding that “there was no one to stand up and fight for (the constituents).”

Pacheco recounted how, during his long career in the Senate, on many occasions he’s spoken out on the floor in opposition to overriding sentiment. He said he expects to do the same when the amendment makes its way to that legislative body.

“We may lose, but we’ll go down fighting,” he said.

As for Patrick’s final decision, Pacheco said, “I would hope he respects the wishes of the legislature.”

Pacheco said there is no way to understate the economic and societal damage the Taunton region will incur if the state hospital closes.

David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the amendment’s provision to hire outside, private vendors to establish the 30 beds for long-term treatment is certain to compromise quality of care.

Schildmeier said he expects the state will hire nonunion workers at low wages and that employee turnover will occur.

“This is going to have a huge impact,” if the Taunton facility closes, he added.

Schildmeier said about 100 nurses have been working at Taunton State Hospital, which was originally built in 1854.

O’Connell, while stating that “none of us are satisfied” with the amendment, also noted that the compromise resulted from a bipartisan effort.

O’Connell said she views the amendment’s passage as “the first step in the legislative process” that hopefully will be enhanced by the Senate.

“People need to remain optimistic and not give up,” she added.

Pacheco said it would be acceptable if between 100 and 125 state owned and operated beds were established in the Taunton area, as a way of easing the hardship of family members of patients and workers who otherwise will face the prospect of a long commute.

“It’s not fair, and it’s not just. It’s something that will impact the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people,” Pacheco said.

Contact Charles Winokoor at