March 1st, 2012

Plans to close Taunton State meet with opposition

With the announced plan to close the 157-year-old Taunton State Hospital, a Massachusetts mental health facility, by the end of the year, the state has taken another step towards consolidating its continuing care mental health services. The Department of Mental Health (DMH) also closed Westborough State Hospital in 2010.

The plan is to send 124 of the beds to a new state-of-the-art facility opening this summer, the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH). Another 45 will be transferred to Tewksbury Hospital, near the New Hampshire border. This move will keep the total number of mental health beds at 626 throughout the state. Taunton’s 410 employees will be offered positions at the new site.

“We have been working diligently for the past year on transition plans,” said former DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm prior to her departure from the post. “This process included a thorough review of the department’s inpatient system statewide, following public forums in all areas of the state and careful consideration of the recommendations provided by the 15-member Inpatient Study Commission established in 2009.”

The decision to close Taunton came from the need to stay within the current budget by realigning the distribution of continuing care inpatient beds.

“The plan to close Taunton State Hospital and transition patients, families and staff to the WRCH continues a necessary shift away from an institutional culture within antiquated facilities,” Leadholm said in a prepared statement. “Our Community First initiative has resulted in an expansion of community services such that we are able to rely much less heavily on institutional settings such as state hospitals.”

The new facility will be approximately 50 miles away from the current site while Tewksbury Hospital is more than 60. This distance, and the loss of local services, concerns State Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton).

“The mental health system in Massachusetts is fragile,” he says. “We are very committed to the community system and we believe strongly that to have a comprehensive mental health system you need to have acute beds and long-term beds that are able to meet the needs of the patients that need those services.”

Since Taunton currently serves the Metro South region of the state as well as the Cape and Islands, travel to Worcester would be more difficult. This applies to workers as well as the clients, Pacheco explains. Some of these people are already driving an hour or more and would need to add another hour to their commute, he adds.

“It is economically unfeasible for them to take these positions that are at the same level. It really becomes a pay cut when you have to travel so much farther.”

Pacheco organized a meeting on January 29 where more than 100 people including local and state officials met to discuss opposition to the plan. Rep. Patricia Haddad, (D-Somerset), joined with Pacheco to encourage the audience to call and write to state officials to get the plan changed.

“We are collaborating on the effort to get the right information out to the public and to legislators who will make a decision on the proposal,” says Pacheco.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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