Apr 17, 2014 Updated: 5:59 AM
Friday, December 7, 2012
By Cristina Quinn | Wednesday, July 11, 2012
July 11, 2012
BOSTON — In the days since Gov. Deval Patrick signed a budget that will, in effect, close Taunton State Hospital, we’ve been hearing from people who stand to lose the most. WGBH News takes a deeper look at the complex matter of taking care of the mentally ill in Massachusetts.
A parent says: Keep the hospital open
Brenda Venice has two adult children who suffer from mental illness. Her daughter has spent time at Taunton State Hospital. She said the state’s move toward an emphasis on community-based services is not the answer to treating those with chronic mental illness.
“By closing Taunton State, you’re not giving people in our area a chance to heal," she said. "You’re just shoving them out into the community, saying, ‘All right, recovery is real.’ And you’re on your own. And even though my daughter is in the community and she is struggling every single day, she’ll say it herself: People need time to heal and you can’t just rush them."
Venice is also the head of the Fall River chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and said there have been countless occasions when families have called her in desperation in trying to get help for their sons or daughters — often after they were discharged from the hospital after only a few days.
"They’re in the hospital 3 days, and then they’re out. In the hospital 5 days, and then they’re out. And if they would have been there a little longer, to make sure that the medication was working and that everyone was OK and [there was] a good transition, that person would be OK," Venice said.
Part of Patrick’s decision to close the hospital is the state’s Community First initiative, which is to expand and integrate long-term, community-based support systems that foster independence among people with various disabilities. These supports include group homes, outpatient psychiatric centers and bridge support to help patients transition back into society.
An advocate says: Treat people in the community
Deborah Delman is an advocate for the governor’s plan. She's the executive director of the Boston-based Transformation Center, which trains peer specialists who have also experienced mental illness to help people reacclimate back into society.
“I think that the state services in Worcester and in Taunton have been really valuable and valued. However, the investment in the community has to strengthen and that’s really the approach that I definitely support," Delman said.
She said that bridge programs, not hospital beds, are the step in the right direction for a patient’s recovery process. However, “we don’t have flexibility in this state to provide that lower-cost alternative for those who really are ready for that. And therefore, beds are filled up with people that really don’t need that level of care."
But Venice disagreed. To her, the emphasis needs to be on the initial recovery process.
“Having people in the community is great. But the thing is — in order to go into the community, you have to be well. And going from Taunton State, a long-term facility — the people are pretty sick. You can’t take a person that’s pretty sick and put them in a group home," she said. "You have to get well in order to be in a group home. Everybody’s recovery is different. Some people recover faster, some people take longer."
That’s what makes treating mental illness so complicated. Add to the mix a tight state budget — and not everyone ends up with what they want.
By Cristina Quinn | Tuesday, July 10, 2012
July 10, 2012
BOSTON — The fight to save Taunton State Hospital is not going away ... it may actually be stepping up. On July 8, Gov. Deval Patrick used a line-item veto to cut $5 million for the mental health facility and transfer services more than 1 hour away to Worcester. Southeastern Massachusetts is angry, some lawmakers are working toward an override and the local newspaper is voicing support for the facility.
Arguments for and against
Karen Coughlin, a nurse at Taunton State Hospital, said closing the 169-bed facility will hurt those in need of inpatient care in Southeastern Massachusetts, and will overwhelm emergency rooms.
“I think we’re going to see more patients, unfortunately, who do not have the community supports that are out there, [who] are going to end up either in an emergency room or unfortunately involved in the legal system or not receiving services whatsoever or spinning in and out of acute care facilities," said Coughlin.
But Marcia Fowler, commissioner of the State Department of Mental Health, said the location should not have any impact on the quality of patient care since admissions are done on a statewide basis.
“People are admitted based on where the first available bed is, not necessarily on where they live because we want to meet the needs of the individual as soon as possible. And we have 28 site offices around the state where our staff assists family members who may have difficulty visiting folks in the hospitals," Fowler said.
A difference in treatment philosophy
While Patrick is counting on a progressive approach to treating the mentally ill, Coughlin believes that approach comes with a risk.
“There has been a large push within the last month to discharge patients out into the community. And unfortunately, I believe some of them aren’t ready. It’s kind of like a wing and a prayer," she said.
Fowler said the focus should not be on inpatient beds, but on rehabilitation and transitioning back into society.
“We have more people that are sitting in our facilities — and these are locked psychiatric facilities — that are waiting for discharge into an appropriate community placement. So we have more individuals waiting for discharge than we do individuals wanting to get into one our continuing care beds," Fowler said.
By Cristina Quinn | Monday, June 11, 2012
June 11, 2012
BOSTON — A freezer malfunction at a Boston-area hospital has damaged one third of the world's largest collection of autism brain samples. An official at McLean Hospital in Belmont discovered the freezer failed in late May without triggering two alarms, resulting in the loss of tissue from 50 brains that were donated for autism research.
Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, said the loss is a major setback for neuroscience.
“The neuroscience community has come to understand what an important disease autism is for understanding how the brain works and how the brain doesn’t work in a disorder of this type,” she said.
The tissue collection is owned by Autism Speaks, an advocacy and research organization. "Fortunately, the affected tissue has already been used in many studies," CSO Geri Dawson said in a statement. "Although this event will affect the availability of tissue for future research, we cannot yet determine the level of impact, but we are confident that we can maintain the momentum of scientific studies based on brain tissue."
Dawson added that she was told that a double alarm failure had never before happened in the brain bank's 35-year history.
By Tonia Magras | Friday, May 4, 2012
May 4, 2012
BOSTON — The day after the suicide of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau at 43 stunned the football world, an emotional Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots shared his thoughts.
"He sent me something in the few weeks after Myra’s passing and he wrote, 'I’m so sorry about the passing of Mrs. Kraft' — " Kraft began to cry as he continued — "'She was an inspiration to me. I have so much respect for all she did and to help people lead better lives. I’ll always be there for you and your family.'"
Among sad football deaths, this "is one of the most dramatic because of how great Seau was … he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer," said Damon Amendolara, host of 98.5 The Sports Hub.
"Inside of that locker room, he was a hero," said sports reporter Chris Collins of NECN, who covered Seau at the end of his career, with the New England Patriots. "He was a teacher, he was a mentor and he was a friend."
Seau’s state of mind and the details surrounding a car accident in 2010 have led some to question whether years of head bumping contributed to his death.
His family said there were no signs of stress or depression — and his sister Annette said the media would "overblow this."
Amendolara said Seau had no notable on-field accidents but pointed out that over much of his career, people weren't focusing on head injuries — and that the linebacker had spent "over 20 years in the most violent position in the football field."
While no one knows what drove Seau to take his own life, former NFL player Tiki Barber said that depression is common among former NFL players: "There is a façade that sits around athletes that we are these strong, emotionally strong, powerful beings, when in fact, we’re just human beings."
Collins agreed that turbulent currents could lie under the façade. "I know a lot of retired NFL players and a lot of them are going through the same type of deal: When you see them out, when you see them on the golf course everything is fine but they're in a dark place when they get home."
Said Amendolara, "It should shine the light right now on former players and what they deal with, whether it's because of the violence of the game and head injuries or just removing themselves from the adrenaline rush — because this is happening far too much."
By WGBH News | Monday, April 30, 2012
April 30, 2012
BOSTON — The conversation about education reform these days often centers on No Child Left Behind or "teaching to the test." But an innovative technique is playing out about 30 miles north of the Massachusetts border, at Somersworth High School in New Hampshire.
The school has adopted a one-on-one approach between teachers and student to develop education plans and provide counseling and life advice. The results: more kids are staying in school and grades are going up.
Filmmaker Dan Habib documented Somersworth High in his new film, "Who Cares About Kelsey," a profile of a struggling student who went from failing classes and selling drugs to a dramatic turnaround.
One reason for the success of Kelsey and other students at Somersworth High is that the school recognized the need for treatment, not punishment.
"Disproportionately, disciplinary issues do come from kids who, often, have emotional disabilities or are at risk of dropping out," Habib said. "Sometimes acting out, having challenging behavior, is a very effective way of getting attention." Over the 4 years of the program, the school reduced disciplinary issues by 60 percent.
True, it takes a lot of work to change the way a school system operates, but Habib thinks it's worth it. Within a school, programs like Somersworth's improve the climate for all students and give teachers more room to teach — without having to spend time disciplining unruly students.
But more than that, school disengagement is a societal problem, Habib said. In his research, he found that dropouts in the Class of 2008 alone cost the country "$319 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetime." Another study showed that increasing the rate of graduation for male students by 5 percent "we'd save over $8 billion a year in crime-related costs."
So when you change the education system, "As a country and as a community and as a state, you find it yields much more success in terms of human capital," Habib said.