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.