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State may invest in Farren reconstruction

The Farren Care Center in Montague needs to rebuild its facility, which is outdated. It is the only center of its kind in the state.  Recorder/Paul Franz

The Farren Care Center in Montague needs to rebuild its facility, which is outdated. It is the only center of its kind in the state. Recorder/Paul Franz

TURNERS FALLS — Local state legislators are trying to secure enough money to build a new state-of-the-art facility for the Farren Care Center, which provides long-term nursing and mental health care services in a sprawling 103-year-old complex.

The center, which serves patients who have both significant health care needs and mental or behavioral issues, is the only one of its kind in the state. The Massachusetts House of Representatives will vote today on a capital repairs bond bill that includes a $28.2 million earmark for Farren.

Owned and operated by the Holyoke-based Sisters of Providence Health System, the center is usually a last resort for patients who have been turned away from traditional nursing homes and care centers, said Franklin County state delegates Rep. Stephen Kulik and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg.

But the facility, originally built and run for 87 years as a community hospital, is too old and too large for its current use. And because nearly all of its 122 patients are covered by Medicaid, the private center essentially depends on government money, the legislators said.

“We cannot afford to lose this facility,” said Rosenberg. “We cannot replicate it easily anywhere else and we don’t want to lose the jobs in Franklin County.”

Farren employs about 200 people, although not all work full time, said Christopher McLaughlin, the health center’s chief operating office and senior vice president. Employees includes administrators, nurses, housekeepers, assistants and workers who specialize in improving a patient’s social environment.

Only a small number of patients have their own room, said McLaughlin. That’s just one example, he said, of how the facility’s original hospital setup is not completely adaptable to the long-term care center’s current use.

He said that health center staff are still figuring out what exactly a new facility, or a renovation of the current one, would look like. All parties would like to keep it in Turners Falls.

Kulik and Rosenberg have been meeting with the Sisters of Providence and state officials for years. They’ve come up with two ways to raise money for a new facility: the capital bond bill allocation and increased Medicaid reimbursements from the state.

The reimbursement change has recently gone through, the legislators said, although details of the increase were unavailable on Tuesday. But while that fix will help the center swallow annual financial losses at Farren, it isn’t the most timely or cost-effective solution to raise money for a renovation project, they said.

Only time will tell, they said, if the bond bill route is successful. Both the House and Senate, as well as Gov. Deval Patrick, will need to approve it.

McLaughlin said that the Sisters of Providence, which has run the facility since the early 20th century, will likely submit some form of construction project plans to the state within the next 12 months — regardless of when or if funding presents itself.

The Farren community hospital closed in 1988 and opened as a long-term care center two years later.

Several health organizations, including Franklin County Home Care Corp. and the Community Health Center of Franklin County’s dental program, rent out space in the facility.

You can reach Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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