October 1st, 2014

Proposed hospital to chip away at region’s shortfall

Southeastern Massachusetts is taking a step toward addressing a shortage of facilities for behavioral health needs with plans to build a 77,000 square foot, 120-bed inpatient hospital in Dartmouth. The anticipated opening date for the $30 million project is fall of 2015.

Acadia Healthcare, a national provider of psychiatric and addiction care based in Tennessee, is partnering with Southcoast Health, a local non-profit provider. The hospital is expected to be located on a 21-acre site with parking for more than 200 cars and feature five core units on three stories servicing a population ranging from adolescents to the elderly.

Because the joint venture is still in its early stages, information on specific staffing and the mental health conditions to be treated are not yet available, according to Peter Cohenna, Southcoast Health’s director of public information.

“We can say that this will be a state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital and will therefore operate as such,” Cohenno said.

In a statement, Keith Hovan, president and CEO of Southcoast Health indicated that the hospital would provide “high quality,” mental health care to a region that currently struggles with a shortfall. Patients typically flock to emergency rooms where they are held until they can be transferred to a behavioral health facility when beds become available and they are medically cleared, Cohenno said.

Southcoast’s St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford currently has 30 beds for behavioral health needs.

Acadia, a publicly-traded company, operates 75 behavioral health facilities in 24 states, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico.

State Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset), Speaker Pro Tempore and co-chair of the Massachusetts General Court’s Mental Health Advisory Committee worked on a commission formed to study the overall mental health needs of the region in the wake of the closure of Taunton State Hospital beds a few years ago.

“In the process, it became clear that we are not imagining the level of need on the Southcoast,” Rep. Haddad said. “I get calls daily asking for help, people trying to get loved ones the services they need. We did find there are a lot of backups in emergency rooms and it got to the point that they’re really in crisis.”

Rep. Haddad was among the leaders last fall at the area’s first Behavioral Health Summit where light was shed on the “overabundance of need,” she said. In addition, the project is complement to efforts to fulfill a Community Hospital Acceleration, Revitalization and Transformation (CHART) grant for St. Luke’s Hospital. The state Health Policy Commission’s funding allowed for creation of an asset map and linkages with community providers, development of plans for a medication management clinic for behavioral health patients and more.

Rep. Haddad said that beds for individuals suffering from addictions are urgently required, noting that Taunton has the highest rate of opiate overdoses in the state, although not all result in death. New Bedford and Fall River also boast the highest rates of substance abuse addictions.

She said she would also like to see services for children and adolescents as well as the elderly population housed at the Dartmouth facility. “I’m sure they’ll be competition for beds (for various disorders and age groups) but I have faith that the parties involved will make an honest effort to address issues beyond drug addiction.”

Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) who spearheaded the effort to keep 45 psychiatric beds open at Taunton State Hospital, regards the plans for the new hospital with caution.

“The new facility will certainly help deal with a piece of the population that needs beds. Unfortunately, it will not come close to meeting the real needs out there unless the state guarantees beds for MassHealth patients. We still need the public mental health hospital to take patients that fall through the cracks.”

While the new facility will help “chip away,” at the problem, Sen. Pacheco added, “We still have a larger one. It’s pretty sad that people with other health care issues like broken legs have several facilities (to help them) but a public health patient” with mental health problems has fewer options.

By Susan Gonsalves

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