Baystate Health’s plan to close behavioral health beds at hospitals in Westfield, Greenfield and Palmer has raised concerns among local residents, advocates, elected officials and nurses
WESTFIELD, Mass. – Patients, families and health care advocates from across the region will gather on Thursday, April 18 to discuss a proposal by Baystate Health that would lead to the closure of much-needed inpatient mental health services at Noble Hospital in Westfield, along with services in Greenfield and Palmer.
Keeping Behavioral Health Care Local: A Community Forum in Westfield
Co-Hosts: Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield and Mayor Brian Sullivan
Date: Thursday, April 18
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Westfield Athenaeum, 6 Elm St., Westfield MA
Everyone is welcome!
“Patients are struggling right now to get quality, timely behavioral health care in Massachusetts,” said Sandra Lortsher, a longtime psychiatric nurse at Noble Hospital. “At Noble Hospital, having an inpatient mental health unit means our patients receive care close to their loved ones. It means they can move directly from our emergency department to a specialized bed – a benefit that shows up in our better-than-average ED wait times. Baystate’s plan to close our beds will make it harder for our patients to get the care they need and deserve.”
In February, Baystate announced that it planned to open a behavioral health hospital with for-profit US HealthVest and close inpatient behavioral health services at Baystate Noble, Franklin and Wing in about two years. Baystate has, with US HealthVest, purchased the former site of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority for the new facility.
One of the forum panelists, Dr. Tammy Bringaze, who has been the director of The Counseling Center at Westfield State University for 13 years, said, “We rely heavily upon the expertise of the staff in the Fowler Unit when our students are in crisis; I can’t imagine not having this resource in our community.”
Keeping Care Local in Westfield?
Baystate Health made promises to keep care local when it acquired Noble Hospital in 2015. At the time, President Ron Bryant told the Boston Business Journal that “our patients will see enhanced services.”
“From our perspective, it’s a continuing of our efforts to provide more care locally,” Ben Craft, a spokesman for Baystate, told the Journal in 2015. “On the Noble side, it gives them the ability to be part of a system, an integrated system. We give them access to resources they might not otherwise have.”
Yet, once again, Baystate is proposing to close local services and send patients and their families to the Springfield area, rather than their community hospital. Baystate is planning this move despite evidence that patients in Westfield and surrounding communities are especially at risk for mental health and substance abuse issues.
Local Behavioral Health Needs
Community needs are so significant in the Westfield area that mental health disorders accounted for four out of the top ten – or 35% of – discharges at Noble Hospital, according to the most recent publicly available data.
Baystate Noble’s 2017-2020 strategic plan, which identified mental health and substance use as its top priorities, noted “an urgent need for improved access to mental health services and increased resources for substance use treatment and prevention.”
- Hospitalization rates for mental health/substance use disorders were 70-80% higher than the state in Westfield and West Springfield.
- “Blacks in Westfield experienced high ER visit rates for mental health disorders, with rates more than three times greater than that of Whites and that of the state.” “The rate among Latinos in West Springfield was 94% greater than that of Whites.”
- Latinos in Westfield and West Springfield experienced significantly higher hospitalization rates than both whites and the statewide average for mental health and substance use issues.
- Even with the existing 20 beds in the Fowler Wing, Baystate Noble acknowledges in its strategic report that portions of its service area are “medically underserved,” and residents experience a variety of barriers to prioritizing healthcare needs and accessing care, from a “lack of providers” to housing shortages and food insecurity.
- Travel times from the outermost communities in Noble's service area – towns like Southwick, Chester, and Granville – to the proposed site in Holyoke could be as long as forty minutes by car, and the Holyoke site is inaccessible by public transportation. From Westfield State University, it can take as long as two hours and thirteen minutes by bus to get to Holyoke.
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