Breaking: Mass. To Close Taunton State Hospital, Move Beds Elsewhere

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The new state psychiatric hospital will try to replicate the feel of a village green
The new state psychiatric hospital will try to replicate the feel of a village green

The Department of Mental Health plans to close Taunton State Hospital, one of the six state-run psychiatric hospitals in Massachusetts, by the end of this year. The move is part of a plan to redistribute the placement of patients with chronic and severe mental illness as a large new state hospital opens in Worcester this summer.

Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Anna Chinappi said that department staffers, including Commissioner Barbara Leadholm, were in Taunton today to announce the plans for closure to the hospital staff.

The hospital's 169 beds will be redistributed, she said: 120 to the new Worcester state hospital and 45 beds to Tewksbury State Hospital. The closure, she said, is part of "the realignment and redistribution" of the state mental health system's 626 hospital beds — "which remain at 626 beds. This action does not represent a reduction in force,"

The Massachusetts Nurses Association decried the plan for closing Taunton State Hospital, saying it would hurt Massachusetts people with mental illness. An MNA press release quoted Karen Coughlin, a nurse at Taunton State and vice president of the association, as saying: “Our system has been operating well over full capacity for years. We can’t provide the care people need even with our facility open. The other issue is geography. We are now forcing patients and families to travel to Worcester, Tewksbury or out to Western Mass for their mental health care. It’s a travesty.”

But Commissioner Leadholm said in a phone interview that the closing frees up money for moving the beds to a far finer, brand new facility. Our conversation, lightly edited:

Why is Taunton State Hospital being closed?

The decision to close Taunton State Hospital really comes down to two important things.

This summer, we will be opening a new state-of-the-art psychiatric facility. It’s called the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital. This hospital has been in the planning stage and actual building stage for a number of years.

So for us to live within our appropriations and to keep the current inpatient capacity of 626 beds statewide, we need to draw up the operation dollars from the rest of the system, because the new hospital is larger. So we need to pull up 124 beds and the associated operating dollars to open the hospital this summer at full capacity. To operate 124 beds, it equals about $25 million. It’s the staff, it’s all the structural work, electricity — so it’s hard to know whether I should talk about dollars or beds. We're basically taking 124 beds and the associated operating dollars and realigning the capacity into the new faciility.

Is Taunton one of your more old and decrepit facilities?

it is certainly one of our old facilities and the campus is expensive to operate, so by closing a hospital on a campus, it does allow us to get additional savings.

And what is the overarching realignment that this is part of?

The department is committed to a vision of a broad spectrum and continuum of services; it includes inpatient all the way through the community, and we actually call our community initiative "Community First." Our commitment over many years now has been to really support people’s recovery, support people living in the community and also provide the necessary inpatient — what we call continuing care services — in our facilities.


What we were able to do in designing the new facility is to reflect the vision of recovery and community actually in the new hospital. So the physical structure replicates a small village. In the kind of place where people would sleep, there are individual rooms, individual bathrooms, and that’s the most restrictive setting.

As you move out from where people will have their individual room, you have a space for groups, for talking to family members, for socializing, and that’s just the unit itself. As you move further, that’s the neighborhood. So we have larger rooms. You might have some physical exercise equipment. And there's actually a town green to reflect the New England community. We have a bank; we have a coffee shop. You can sit out on benches. It really is an attempt to have the physical surroundings support the patients.

The Patrick administration sent over this press release:

Department of Mental Health (DMH) hospital to close by the end of the year; inpatient capacity statewide will remain unchanged

BOSTON – Tuesday, January 24, 2012 – The Patrick-Murray Administration today announced that Taunton State Hospital, a state mental health facility, will officially close on December 31. The opening of a state-of-the-art facility, the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, is scheduled for this summer. In developing the plan for the new facility in Worcester, the Department of Mental Health (DMH), which operates Taunton State Hospital, realigned the distribution of its continuing care inpatient beds and identified an operating budget to make the new facility possible.

“We understand that this announcement will impact the community of Taunton,” said Governor Patrick. “By closing the Taunton facility, we are maintaining this administration’s commitment to Community First, while preserving all of the facility’s employment opportunities. We look forward to working collaboratively with the city during the implementation of this transfer and closure plan.”

As part of the closure of Taunton State Hospital, 124 of Taunton State’s inpatient beds will be consolidated into the new Worcester facility. An additional 45 beds will be transferred to Tewksbury Hospital. As a result of this realignment, the total number of inpatient beds will be maintained at 626, DMH’s current capacity. There are currently 410 employees at Taunton State Hospital and 426 employees at Worcester State Hospital (the existing facility is slated to close in July), all of whom will have job opportunities at the new Worcester facility.

The closure of Taunton State will not result in a reduction in workforce On the Taunton State Hospital campus DMH operates several residences for DMH consumers. This administration has made a commitment to keep these programs and the jobs associated with them in the Taunton area.

“We remain deeply committed to Community First,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, “For that reason, this closure promotes our shift away from antiquated institutional facilities across healthcare settings toward an environment that emphasizes community supports for patients instead.”

During the past year, DMH hosted a series of community forums to discuss the Department’s Community First policy. At these conversations, the configuration of DMH inpatient capacity was discussed and all stakeholder feedback was considered as part of the decision to close Taunton State Hospital. The Department recognizes the potential impact that this closure may have on patients and their families, and we will work closely with them throughout the closure process to ensure a smooth transition.

Similarly, in 2009, Secretary Bigby appointed an independent 15-member Inpatient Study Commission to evaluate the DMH inpatient system relative to the closure of Westborough State Hospital; determine an appropriate inpatient capacity for DMH facilities; and recommend a plan to the Administration for consideration. Following a series of public hearings across the state, review of numerous documents, data and testimony, the Commission submitted its recommendations on June 30, 2009, which were guided by the main tenets that individuals should live and be served in the least restrictive community settings whenever possible and that the community system must be strengthened to support that.

“We all know that for many, mental illness is a chronic and lifelong disorder,” said DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm. “The Department must assure the availability of a spectrum of services and supports as individuals with mental illness experience varying levels of need throughout recovery. The new facility in Worcester will fuel our ability to serve those needs.”

Patient transitions from Taunton State Hospital will occur in phases throughout the closure process. Patients will have choices, including transfer and discharge where appropriate, and family members will be involved as requested by patients. A clinician will work very closely with the patients throughout the decision making process. All patients will be transitioned from Taunton by the closing date of December 31.

DMH will work closely with each Taunton State patient, their treatment teams and their families to accomplish one of the following:
· Discharge each patient to a community placement;
· Transfer to the new Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital; or
· Transfer to Tewksbury State Hospital.

In 2010, the Department of Mental Health worked closely with stakeholders to expedite the closure of the former Westborough State Hospital.

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This program aired on January 24, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.




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