May 1st, 2013

Study documents high cost of keeping Taunton State Hospital open

An independent consultant for the Massachusetts State Legislature estimates it would cost the Department of Mental Health (DMH) $12.77 million to keep 45 beds open at Taunton State Hospital.

No such funding is included in the FY2014 state budget, acknowledges Abt Associates in a study for the Mental Health Advisory Committee. Legislators formed the committee last year after voting to override Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto of $5.1 million to fund keeping 45 of Taunton’s 169 beds open, citing concerns the closure jeopardized jobs and posed a hardship for patients and families

The committee was tasked with examining the closure’s impact on the southeastern part of the state’s only continuing care facility and filing a report by Dec. 31, 2012. Delays in negotiating a contract with Abt Associates led to an extension, allowing the report to be submitted in March.

The state-wide capacity of continuing care beds would remain at 626 under the plan. That’s still higher than the average daily patient census of between 565 and 580, DMH Commissioner Marcia Fowler, M.A., J.D., says. Lost Taunton beds would be made up 50 miles away at Tewksbury State Hospital or 100 miles away at the new Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital. Fowler called attention to the report’s finding that only 44 percent of Taunton’s total admissions between FY2010 and FY2012 were patients from southeastern Massachusetts.

Fowler says the average annual cost of a psychiatric bed in the Commonwealth is about $271,000. But the 45 beds in Taunton cost $380,000 each when capital costs, staff and other expenses not part of the DMH budget are considered.

“It makes absolutely no economic sense,” Fowler says. “As a taxpayer, I would be outraged spending money on beds that are not even used.”

The report says the DMH must address a backlog of 100 patients occupying continuing care beds ready for discharge into the community. The slow pace of community placement holds up patients in acute care units waiting for a continuing care bed which delays moving individuals taken to the emergency room waiting for an acute care bed.

“If a decision is made to maintain some type of continuing care bed capacity in the southeast, we conclude that serious consideration should be given to other budget options before committing $12.77 million on an annual basis to operate Taunton at 45 beds,” the report states.

The committee co-chaired by state Sen. John F. Keenan (D-Norfolk/Plymouth) and House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Patricia A. Haddad (D-Fifth Bristol) had more than two dozen members, including Fowler and representatives from employee unions, government, the insurance industry, hospitals, health care advocates and others.

“Taunton is obviously very expensive,” says committee designee and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Massachusetts President Lynda Michaud Cutrell. “I don’t think the beds need to be in the Taunton State Hospital building. There should be another solution.”

Those living on the outer Cape could face several hours of commuting to see a family member hospitalized in Worcester, she adds. “It’s way too difficult for some people to travel that far and help in their loved one’s recovery.”

By Janine Weisman

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