MNA Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Denounce Version Two of Baystate Health Plan to Close Local Mental Health Beds in Greenfield, Palmer and Westfield
HOLYOKE, Mass. – Nurses and healthcare professionals represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association condemn the decision announced on July 21 by Baystate Health to resume its planned closure of 70 mental health beds at community hospitals in Greenfield, Palmer and Westfield.
Baystate said it plans to partner with for-profit Kindred Healthcare to open a 120-bed behavioral health facility in Holyoke and then close all of the mental health beds at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Baystate Noble Hospital and Baystate Wing Hospital in about two years.
“This is the same bad plan, with the same negative impacts for patients and our communities,” said Donna Stern, a psychiatric nurse at BMFC and Senior Co-Chair of the MNA Bargaining Unit. “Closing local mental health beds and moving services to a centralized, for-profit facility will throw up huge barriers in front of vulnerable patients. When we need more mental health care services than ever before, why is a huge hospital corporation like Baystate planning to close beds?”
Baystate’s plan is virtually identically to the plan it announced last year with for-profit behavioral health provider US HealthVest. That proposal fell apart when a Seattle Times investigative series reported on substandard care at US HealthVest’s mental health facilities. Kindred Healthcare, Baystate’s new partner, has itself been the target of substandard patient care accusations. In 2009, a state court jury in Georgia awarded the daughter of a man who died in pain at a Kindred facility $1.25 million. A group of caregivers in California also sued Kindred in 2014, alleging the company failed to pay minimum wage and overtime. Kindred later settled for $12 million and agreed to pay caregivers.
MNA nurses and healthcare professionals plan to fight local closures and demand Baystate provide safe patient care and fair working conditions at any new facility. Nurses at Baystate Noble Hospital are resuming contract negotiations soon and have proposed no unit closures and no layoffs. A community petition circulated by the Noble nurses shows 96% of the responding community members support the proposal to keep the Noble mental health unit Fowler open and 94% want Fowler to be expanded.
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 Hampden County, rather than their community hospital. The Holyoke site Baystate has proposed to purchase with US HealthVest is 33.4 miles from Franklin 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 PVTA bus schedules and 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.
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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.