Bridgewater State Hospital, Massachusetts’ only secure psychiatric hospital for adult males, which houses and treats mentally ill men either charged with or convicted of a crime, would see major changes under a plan unveiled by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.
The state is soliciting proposals from private vendors to provide “enhanced medical and mental health treatment for patients” at the medium-security prison, which has faced controversy in recent years surrounding the treatment and deaths of patients.
According to the Request for Response (RFR), the vendor must have extensive knowledge of treating individuals with serious behavioral health needs. Under the plan, BSH patients who have been convicted of a crime would be moved out of BSH into new patient units at the neighboring Old Colony Correctional Center. The new patient units at Old Colony would deliver an enhanced clinical service model.
At BSH, the presence of corrections officers would be significantly reduced. Corrections officers would no longer work inside BSH, but uniformed security staff will continue to provide perimeter security as well as serve within the neighboring sentenced patient units.
Additionally, the plan calls for enhanced treatment services, increased staff training and a focus on reducing the emergency use of seclusion and restraint. The RFR calls for services to be delivered in accordance with a “person-centered, trauma informed, recovery/resiliency philosophy and approach to care.”
Christine Griffin, executive director of the Disability Law Center, said the plan is a step in the right direction. “It is a really good first step in making systemic changes at Bridgewater and hopefully with the goal of making it a mental health facility and not a prison, which is what it currently is.”
Griffin, however, would like to see Bridgewater under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Health. Under the governor’s plan, the facility remains under the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction.
“That’s the part we don’t like,” Griffin said. “We think it needs to be a Department of Mental Health facility and that it’s time for Massachusetts to join 48 states that have figured this out already.”
Such a move would require legislative approval. “I do think it’s possible, and I’m hoping the legislature is taking a good look at this. We certainly urge them to do that.”
Griffin did applaud the reduction of corrections officers as outlined in the plan and the increased focus on treatment.
“The units will be staffed and managed by well-trained mental health clinicians and mental health workers,” Griffin said. “I think when you have really good well-trained staff and people who are providing really good quality treatment you don’t have the problems that you see in a place like Bridgewater,” such as fighting. “That doesn’t happen when you know how to de-escalate and work with people,” she said.
Laurie Martinelli, executive director of NAMI Massachusetts, said that while her organization appreciates many of the proposed changes laid out in the RFR, NAMI Mass believes that any improvements will be limited by the Department of Correction’s continued responsibility for the evaluation and treatment of men with mental illness.
“The people that are there have mental health needs and they need the expertise and compassion of the Department of Mental Health employees,” Martinelli said. Currently, “It’s not a therapeutic environment at all.”
Martinelli did, however, say the plan includes some good provisions, such as the fact that the contractor is required to provide all personnel with annual training in many areas; and that every patient would receive an initial treatment plan at the time of admission that would be reviewed within 10 days and a formal treatment plan developed no more than 30 days from admission.
Under the plan, the contract will be awarded in December, with the new plan taking effect Feb. 1.
By Pamela Berard