As early as the end of the year, Heywood Healthcare, an independent system that operates the non-profit, 134-bed acute-care Heywood Hospital in Gardner and Athol Hospital, a 25-bed, non-profit critical access facility, could close a deal to purchase a 20-acre property in Petersham.
According to Win Brown, president and CEO of Heywood Healthcare, his system is seeking to improve access to mental health and substance abuse services in North Central Massachusetts. “There is a lack of inpatient, residential and outpatient services as well as rehabilitation for addiction,” he says. “Our board of trustees created a strategic plan that focused on behavioral health services.”
Heywood Healthcare’s current services are inadequate to meet local needs, Brown says. “We were looking for real estate that would enable us to provide a continuum of care.” He found the answer in a 75,000 square foot property in Petersham owned by the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which includes a two-story nursing home and space for recreation, large multi-story dormitory and commercial kitchen.
“They had the bones of what could make a good destination for services,” Brown notes. The current campus design could accommodate 80 patients for residential and inpatient treatment. “After the renovation that could change. The property is in excellent condition, although it needs major renovations to bring it up to building code,” he adds.
Heywood is currently hosting a series of community dialogues intended to educate the neighborhood and allay any concerns about the project. “The community has been very supportive and understands the need for services. Their big question is what will be the impact on a small town,” says Brown.
Once the town gives the green light, the project will undergo the regulatory process with the Departments of Mental Health and Public Health. “Closing could be before the end of the year, depending on local and state approval for the project. As soon as we pass through those doors, if all goes well, you could probably see services in one year,” says Brown. “It would be a phased entry, beginning with outpatient and then moving to inpatient services.”
Outpatient services will comprise an intensive program and continuum of care as well as on-going support for patients who have gone through detox, similar to services offered in a regular psychiatric hospital. In time, when the facility is operating round-the-clock, staffing is expected to exceed 100 employees on campus, Brown says.
Unless a solution is found, Brown says that patients with mental illness and substance abuse problems will continue to revolve in and out of the emergency room. “This project is local folks coming up with a local solution. We’re looking within versus without. No one else will fix this for us,” says Brown. “We’re very excited and think this is serendipitous. The timing is right for us.”
While the facility will serve individuals in the North Central part of the state predominantly, the property is just over an hour’s drive from Boston, Brown points out, making it accessible across the state.
By Phyllis Hanlon