January 1st, 2010

Westborough State Hospital to close ahead of schedule

In a money saving plan expected to help meet the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health’s $14 million shortfall entering fiscal year 2010, the state will be closing Westborough State Hospital in April, two months ahead of schedule. The plan to close the hospital and build a new state-of-the-art facility on the campus of Worcester State Hospital has been in the works for about eight years, and the new hospital is expected to open in 2012.

At the moment, the Department of Mental Health is “in the middle of transition and discharge plans for [Westborough State’s] patients” until patients can be placed at the new Worcester facility, according to DMH Office of Communications and Community Engagement Director Anna Chinappi. As of mid-December, the patient count was about 90, down from 152 over the summer. Some patients, she states, are being discharged to other DMH facilities and others into community placements.

Toby Fisher, director of public policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Massachusetts, says that NAMI-MA is “very supportive of the new hospital. We’re very happy with that initiative,” but is most concerned about the adequacy of community services and that placements for patients exiting Westborough State not displace those who are currently in the community.

“It’s too early to tell how it’s going,” he says. Fisher acknowledges these “very difficult times,” but adds that DMH had “heavy and disproportionate cuts in the first round last year – the most recent cuts are already on an extremely lean budget.”

The future of the property at Westborough State has yet to be determined. Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Worcester) is lead Senate sponsor of a bill to establish a special commission to explore the re-use of the land, along with Rep. Carolyn Dykema (D-Westborough) in the House. As of December, the bill had been reported out of the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight and was on its way to the Rules Committee. The bill is considered to be “pretty uncontroversial,” according to Melissa Threadgill, communications director for Sen. Eldridge. “Put a bunch of smart people with expertise in a room and they’ll figure out what would be the best use of the land,” she explains. The bill’s sponsors have been “working hard to get all involved parties on board” and are hopeful that it will pass this session.

The new hospital will replace the old Worcester State Hospital as well as Westborough State. Both construction and the therapeutic milieu will be thoroughly updated.

By Elinor Nelson

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