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.