Approximately eight years after an Inpatient Study Report from the Department of Mental Health (DMH) recommended the consolidation of Worcester State Hospital with Westborough State Hospital and construction of a new building, that suggestion will soon become reality. Nearing completion, the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH) will begin serving individuals with severe and persistent mental illness in its new state-of-the-art facility by summer’s end.
According to Marcia Fowler, M.A., J.D., commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, the new hospital represents the largest non-road construction project in the Commonwealth’s history. The 430-square foot structure, adjacent to the old hospital, will contain 320 beds – 60 for adolescents and 260 for adults – in a revolutionary design that mirrors the “natural structure of home, neighborhood and community,” according to the commissioner.
During a recent media tour, New England Psychologist had an opportunity to view the new hospital first-hand. In sharp contrast to the old hospital, WRCH features private rooms, complete with their own bathrooms and durable, specially designed furnishings, explains Anthony Riccitelli, the hospital’s chief operating officer. Each of the five 26-bed units bears its own identity and color scheme. “It has a non-institutional look, but more of a residential look,” he says. “The intent is to provide a private, quieter space.”
Once the patient steps outside his private room, he will enter a hallway bordered by family meeting rooms, kitchenettes, recreational rooms – in essence, a neighborhood. The neighborhood, which represents a transition to “downtown,” forms a ring around the entire building and facilitates recovery by inviting clients to participate in everyday activities, such as cooking and socializing with others. Clinicians, social workers and other therapists will teach independent living skills and clinical-based functions in the activity rooms.
WRCH will also contain a unit for individuals who are hearing impaired and every unit is equipped with an electronic messaging board. “This is an effective way to communicate,” says Fowler.
The “downtown” area epitomizes a public and energetic venue that includes a bank, gift shop, café, gym and a multi-denominational chapel, complete with Plexiglas stained glass windows and acoustic panels that were designed with input from eight children from two different inpatient and residential programs. “We held a series of focus groups. Children in the groups chose the colors and the lines of the room,” says Riccitelli.
Classrooms in the adolescent wing will enable younger clients to continue schooling without interruption while hospitalized. A staffed library will carry printed material and have computers for client use. Two fitness rooms and a half-court basketball court in the gymnasium will foster physical activity. A general store will offer items for purchase and also allow clients to practice life competencies in a safe learning environment. A pavilion holds center stage in the downtown where outside vendors will operate a coffee shop for patients and their families. Seven contiguous enclosed courtyards with an eighth one located near the “downtown” area offer clients the chance to participate in a pick-up basketball game, stroll in the fresh air or meditate.
The Village Green forms the exterior centerpiece of the building where decorative landscaping and a fountain will add a meditative element and a glass canopy will enable outdoor walks, regardless of the weather.
The second floor boasts two conference rooms with state-of-the-art audio-visual capabilities. Fowler explains that this high-tech equipment will facilitate training sessions across the Commonwealth. “We will be able to transmit to all units and other facilities in the state. We can train staff statewide and they don’t have to be present,” she says.
A second conference room will serve as judge’s chambers. During commitment hearings and other proceedings, video and audio equipment will allow for remote access. “Witnesses don’t need to be in the room,” Fowler says.
A multi-disciplinary team of social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and other clinicians will staff the hospital; specific staffing levels for mental health professionals have not yet been determined, according to Anna Chinappi, director, Office of Communications and Community Engagement at the DMH.
The Division of Capital Asset Management, in partnership with Ellenzweig Associates, Inc. and Gilbane Construction, was responsible for oversight, design and construction, respectively, of the new psychiatric hospital. WRCH aims to provide safe and respectful treatment in conjunction with active rehabilitation with return to community living as the end goal.
The building design will foster efficient and cost-effective operations and will be LEEDS Gold Certified, a designation awarded to new construction that adheres to certain standards. Specifically, the building incorporates energy efficiency and water conservation practices; a healthy indoor environment; use of low-maintenance/long-life materials; reduced environmental emissions; waste recycling building management system technology; and systems commissioning and operational training. In a tribute to the past, some of the stonework from the original hospital has been used in the new construction. “This is an acknowledgement of the legacy of the original hospital,” says Chinappi.
The final price tag for the project is estimated at $305 million and annual operating costs will be approximately $60 million.
The commissioner notes that the design “is unique to Massachusetts and will set a standard for rehabilitation and patient care across the country.”
“This is what people with persistent and serious mental illness deserve,” says Fowler. “This state-of-the-art facility represents an environment of care.”
Fowler says, “This hospital is testimony to the commitment of the administration to recognize that persons with mental illness deserve a facility that promotes reintegration into the community in a timely fashion. The building represents the stages of recovery from the ability to leave a private space and engage with others and then move into the larger community until they are ready to reintegrate back into the community where we think people should be treated.”
The closing of the Taunton state hospital in Dec. 2012 should have no impact on the number of beds, the workforce in the state or the patient census at WRCH. Fowler indicates that the operating dollars from the Taunton facility will be realigned to the new hospital in Worcester.
By Phyllis Hanlon