More than 200 people protested planned closing of Taunton State Hospital

Mental health facility in Taunton slated to close by end of year.
Corey Kane, Patriot Ledger State House Bureau, March 22, 2012

Boston - More than 200 people, many of them chanting “Stop and study,” gathered in a State House auditorium Thursday to demand that Governor Deval Patrick’s administration delay the closing of Taunton State Hospital until a thorough study is made of the state’s mental health system.

“We should stop any further cuts including the cuts to Taunton State Hospital,” an angry Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton told a mix of union members and patient families.

A number of state lawmakers and the Taunton and Worcester mayors also attended.

The state Department of Mental Health plans to close the 169-bed psychiatric hospital and move patients to a new facility in Worcester and an existing unit in Tewksbury by the end of the year.

The Patrick administration says the plan to move patients far from the aging Taunton facility reflects a shift toward community-based services that brings savings for mental health care.
The administration has said no jobs would be lost, and that all 415 workers at the Taunton facility would be offered positions at the new hospital in Worcester, some 60 miles away.

Opponents of the plan say it would lower the number of beds for mental health patients in the state and jeopardize hundreds of jobs.

Pacheco challenged administration statements that the transition will mean a total of 626 beds for mental health services in the state.

“What they don’t say is that it is 146 beds short of their own recommendation,” Pacheco told the animated crowd that included many union members dressed in green AFSCME 93 and blue Massachusetts Nurses Association shirts. “They say no jobs will be lost, but 415 people will be bumping across the whole system.”

Senator John Keenan of Quincy told the crowd he visited Taunton State Hospital and did not find its services lacking, contrary to the Department of Mental Health’s assertions. “If I had a mother, father, daughter, niece or nephew have to go there, I’d say ‘thank you,’” Keenan said.

Health care workers attending the rally echoed the lawmakers’ concerns. “If you want evidence of our mental health system’s failure, come to any emergency room at any time any day, and ask how many psychiatric patients we are treating,” Stacey McEachern, a 12-year nurse in Quincy Medical Center’s emergency room told the crowd.

Pacheco said keeping Taunton open for another year could cost an additional $10 million to $15 million. He said the administration could tap the state’s “rainy day fund” to help fill the gap. Patrick’s budget has proposed $666 million for the Department of Mental Health next year, an $11 million increase from last year but still below funding for previous years.

Copyright 2012 The Enterprise. Some rights reserved

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