Local Elected Officials to Host Community Forum in Greenfield on February 28 about Baystate’s Proposed Closure of Mental Health Services
GREENFIELD, Mass. – Patients, families and health care advocates from across the region will gather on Thursday, February 28 to discuss a plan proposed by Baystate Health that would lead to the closure of much-needed inpatient mental health services at hospitals in Greenfield, Westfield and Palmer.
Keeping Behavioral Health Care Local: A Community Forum
Co-Hosts: Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Greenfield Town Councilor Sheila Gilmour
Date: Thursday, February 28
Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Episcopal Church of Saint James and Andrew, 8 Church St. Greenfield
Everyone is welcome!
“Baystate’s plan raises serious concerns for local patients and their families,” said Donna Stern, a psychiatric nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “We desperately need more high-quality behavioral health care services that are accessible to everyone in our communities. How will eliminating local beds help? Moving patients to a facility many miles away that is run by a for-profit company does not seem like the right answer. Our patients deserve better.”
In early February, Baystate announced that it plans to open a behavioral health hospital in the Springfield area with for-profit US HealthVest and close inpatient behavioral health services at Baystate Franklin, Noble and Wing in about two years. Last week, the Holyoke City Council said it will review an offer by Baystate and US HealthVest to purchase the former site of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority.
"Right now, in Western Massachusetts, we are already struggling to provide adequate behavioral health care to our loved ones and neighbors," said Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. "It is important that our community fully understands this proposal by Baystate and has the opportunity to ask questions now while it is early in the process, so that we can all be sure there will be no cuts to services or treatment options locally. I am happy to partner with MNA on this forum to help make our local voices heard and so we can all be reassured that this plan will not make it harder for patients to access essential mental health services."
“Our society’s growing mental health and substance abuse epidemics are a true emergency that we must address with more focus, resources and compassion,” said Sheila Gilmour, Greenfield’s Precinct 6 Town Councilor. “It strains credulity to believe that Baystate’s plan to close dozens of mental health beds in Greenfield, Westfield and Palmer will improve the situation. We need more high-quality, local services and should all be wary of any shift in resources toward a centralized, for-profit model.”
Keeping Care Local?
Baystate Health made promises to keep care local when it acquired Wing and Noble hospitals. It also made promises following its contract negotiations with MNA nurses at Franklin in 2012 and 2013. In fact, Baystate launched a campaign called “BFMC Campaign for Keeping Care Local,” after the community and nurses first adopted that theme.
Baystate stated, “Baystate Franklin Medical Center is a cornerstone of wellness and health care for the northern area of the Pioneer Valley and keeping high quality health care close to home is at the core of our mission.”
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. The Holyoke site Baystate has proposed to purchase with US HealthVest is 33.4 miles from BFMC and 21 miles from Wing. Relocating behavioral health services to a centralized location could mean round trips of two hours or more for patients and their families, depending on traffic conditions.
A Community Health Needs Assessment prepared for Baystate in 2016 identified a lack of transportation as a problem facing many area residents. “In a needs assessment of Franklin, Hampshire, and North Quabbin Regions, lack of transportation was cited as a significant barrier to accessing services,” the report said.
Local Behavioral Health Needs
Franklin County residents in particular face higher than average risks of facing mental health and substance abuse issues, according to the Community Health Needs Assessment prepared for Baystate.
- An estimated 12% of Franklin County residents have poor mental health on 15 or more days in a month, compared to 11% statewide.
- Hospitalization rates for mental disorders (including substance use) in Franklin County were nearly 50% more than the state.
- Opioid overdose fatalities in Franklin County were higher than that of the state with 13.2 fatalities per 100,000 as compared to 10.7 statewide.
Community members are encouraged to share their experiences and questions at the forum on February 28. Among the many questions raised since Baystate’s announcement:
- Is this a strategic move by Baystate Health toward a profit-centered approach? Mental health units that care for people with Medicaid/Medicare are less financially remunerative than a for-profit, private mental health hospital that may care mainly for private pay patients/people with health insurance.
- When did Baystate begin discussing this plan? Who did it speak with to perform its “due diligence” prior to announcing the plan? It appears now that Baystate had already bid for a site for the new hospital when it announced the plan.
- Will the new facility be non-medical? If so, what does that mean for behavioral health patients who can currently get care at full-service hospitals in Greenfield, Palmer and Westfield? What will happen to the patient populations of the medical-surgical units?
- If the new facility is a for-profit, what does that mean for admissions of patients who use Medicare or Medicaid or who do not have insurance?
- What is the financial relationship between Baystate (a non-profit) and US HealthVest (a for-profit)? Will the community still have a voice in its health care under this partnership?
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