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State Health Dept. Opposes Closing Of Faulkner Detox Unit

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has ordered Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital to meet an extensive list of criteria before closing its inpatient drug and alcohol detoxification unit, which is scheduled for April.

In a letter to the hospital’s attorney, Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, director of DPH’s Division of Health Care Quality, said DPH has determined that the inpatient substance abuse services Faulkner Hospital has proposed to discontinue are “necessary for preserving access and health status” in the hospital’s service area. The state is requiring the hospital to prepare a plan detailing how the detox unit’s services will be maintained. The unit opened in 1985.

The hospital is owned by Partners HealthCare, which plans to reduce the number of detox beds from 15 to six, and to house those patients on a general medical unit alongside cardiac, diabetes, surgical and other patients — as opposed to in a dedicated substance abuse unit. In her letter, Biondolillo asked Faulkner to consider setting aside nine detox beds, as opposed to six. Among the plans the hospital must outline for the state is “a protocol that describes how Faulkner Hospital will replicate best practices to closely monitor patients who are in the detoxification process, including frequent overnight monitoring of patients.”

The letter comes in response to testimony of clinicians, former patients, elected officials and local residents at a DPH public hearing on Feb. 15. In her letter, Biondolillo noted that beyond Faulkner Hospital staff, no one testified on behalf of closure.

Testimony of those opposed to the closure included concerns about increased wait times for detox beds, which might lead to more patients being housed in the ER; and the loss of the “supportive environment on the unit that many described as an important element of their recovery process,” according to Biondolillo.

In a recent interview with WBUR, Ed Liston-Kraft, the hospital’s vice president of professional and clinical services, said that patients will be treated by the same addiction specialists and that the hospital is working to expand its outpatient addiction programs. Faulkner also has plans to open a clinic to treat patients with Suboxone, a drug used to ease withdrawal from narcotics.

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