New $302M State Psych Hospital, Recovery Center Opens Today

Massachusetts officials are opening the $302-million Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital today, The Globe reports, a huge, controversial, state-of-the-art facility for the most seriously ill psychiatric patients. With bucolic landscaping, treadmills and pool tables in the rec-rooms and careful consideration of how best to enhance the healing process for folks with very tough disorders, the new facility is the largest non-transportation project in state history,

The Globe reports:

Yet within this $302 million structure, there is clearly a sober ness of purpose. The ceiling light fixtures lack any parts that could be used to help residents hang themselves. The lights’ on-off switches are partly covered to avoid deliberate electrocution. The walls are made of a high-impact material to absorb fist-pounding and kicking...

The 320-bed hospital will take in the patients displaced from a Worcester facility that is being closed and a partially shuttered Taunton hospital. The new complex will treat nearly half of 670 psychiatric patients across the state needing long-term hospitalization. In the mid-1950s, the state’s network of about a dozen psychiatric hospitals housed nearly 23,000 patients.

The complex, with its private rooms and its airy communal spaces, represents a stark departure from state mental hospitals of old, where patients fought delusions and depressions in locked wards, with little focus on privacy and choice.

While state authorities remain deeply committed to the concept of community-based care, they said they had to construct a more modern structure in line with current therapeutic practices for those who cannot yet live safely in the general population. Many of the patients who will be treated there have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, severe bipolar disorder, and other profound mental conditions.

Back in March, Carey got a tour of the facility while it was still under construction. Here's a bit of what she saw:

The hospital space flows much as the space does in a typical life outside, from private space in a patient’s room, to a small unit, to a “neighborhood,” to the broad interaction of downtown.

“The intent is to create as much autonomy as we possibly can, to engage the patient in their recovery in a way that is not controlling,” said Anthony Riccitelli, the hospital’s chief of operations.

Each wing has a kitchen where patients will be able to prepare food, both to suit their own tastes better and to practice a “life skill.” They will also have access to courtyards with features ranging from a basketball court to a labyrinth for meditative walking.

Part of the “state of the art” is technology that will allow witnesses to testify remotely at commitment or guardianship hearings in a room set aside as judge’s chambers; widespread wireless; and assorted features that included extensive input from patients, including the stained glass windows in the non-denominational chapel (right).

It is hoped, Commissioner Fowler said, that the new hospital’s environment will prove so therapeutic that it will shorten the time that patients need to stay.

This program aired on August 16, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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