Advocates Fight State over Mental Hospital Closure

By Abbie Ruzicka

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Feb. 22, 2012

taunton state hospital

The original Taunton State Hospital building, shown here in a 19th-century stereoscope slide, was demolished six years ago after a fire. If all goes according to plan, the entire hospital will be closed by the end of 2012. (New York Public Library)

 
BOSTON — At a Wednesday budget hearing, Southeastern Mass. lawmakers criticized the state's decision to close Taunton State Hospital.

On Jan. 24, the Department of Mental Health announced the closure of Taunton State Hospital by the end of this year. Current patients at Taunton State would be moved to newer facilities in Worcester and Tewksbury, more than 50 miles away. Advocates say the closure would leave southeastern Massachusetts with no available inpatient beds for those who are mentally ill.

 

Local politicians and mental health advocates have started lobbying Gov. Deval Patrick to keep the hospital open. 
 
Laurie Martinelli, the director of the Massachusetts branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said Taunton State Hospital is an anchor for the southeastern part of the state. 
 
"We're very concerned about a., the loss of statewide capacity and b., the travel needs of people from the New Bedford/Fall River area but also Cape Cod and the Islands because they are now going to have to travel much further and if there's not public transportation, if the family doesn’t have a car, it raises a host of issues," she said.

>> NAMI statement on the closure

Martinelli has called for an independent study to look into mental health care in Massachusetts and the number of inpatient beds needed for the mentally ill. 
 
However, new Department of Mental Health commissioner Marcia Fowler said that mental health patients in the region would not see a reduction in services as a result of the closure.
 
"All state agencies have gone through some difficult financial times, but we don’t believe we need more state beds, and case in point we have more people in our facilities that are awaiting discharge than we need beds," she said.
 
She added that patients at Taunton State Hospital would be encouraged to use the state's community-based services.


A video taken inside the original hospital building.

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