SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Registered nurses who have been advocating with a community coalition to keep care local in the face of Baystate Health’s proposed closures of mental health beds in Greenfield, Palmer and Westfield are calling on Baystate to preserve and enhance those essential services after Baystate finally chose to end its partnership with US HealthVest.
“Baystate Health should have done its homework in the first place and never partnered with a for-profit company that was treating its patients and staff so disgracefully,” said Donna Stern, a psychiatric nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and senior co-chair of the BFMC Bargaining Committee.
“We are glad that Baystate has heard the concerns of the community and ended its partnership with US HealthVest. Now Baystate must listen fully and promise to keep care local no matter what. Local mental health services in our communities means better access and higher quality care. We should be expanding mental health care in our communities, not making cuts and moving it away.”
On Wednesday, Baystate sent a letter to the “Baystate Health Community” saying that Baystate and US HealthVest have “mutually agreed to not move forward” with plans to build a new mental health facility in Holyoke. Earlier this year, Baystate announced it would also close 70 mental health beds at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Noble Hospital and Wing Hospital.
Baystate waited more than two months after the publication of a Seattle Times investigation detailing patient neglect, fraudulent documentation of care, dangerous staffing levels and even an assault linked to cost savings efforts at US HealthVest facilities to end its partnership. MNA nurses and advocates repeatedly called on Baystate to dissolve the partnership and instead invest in local care. Dozens marched in downtown Springfield last month to protest Baystate’s plans.
Another Seattle Times report published in October revealed that US HealthVest executives pressured a mental health hospital in Washington to keep patients against their will. These patients admitted themselves to Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital voluntarily. State law says they must be “released immediately” if requested, according to the Times. Instead, executives asked for lists of such patients and pressured staff to keep them in the hospital for financial reasons.
Baystate said in its November 6 letter that it plans to try and find a new partner, while operating its current inpatient behavioral health units “as usual” in the meantime.
“This proves we cannot trust the kind of decisions Baystate makes in regard to with whom they choose to open a for-profit facility with,” Stern said. “But we know one thing we can trust is the local care we provide now in our communities. If Baystate wants to expand something that already works, then why not expand local mental health care?”
Baystate Health made $68.1 million in profits in fiscal year 2018, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis. Noble Hospital made $1.2 million that year in profits. Through the first three quarters of 2019, Baystate made $59.7 million.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.