No state dollars for Farren
Law prohibits allocation of public money to private religious institution
TURNERS FALLS — The state Legislature has eliminated a proposed $28.2 million earmarked for the Farren Care Center, leaving the future unclear for the long-term nursing and mental health care center.
The Holyoke-based Sisters of Providence Health System needs to either renovate or build a new facility soon. The center is serving its patients, who have both significant health care needs and mental or behavioral issues, on a sprawling, 103-year-old complex originally designed as a hospital.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, had written the earmark for Farren into a capital repairs bond bill. But a 97-year-old amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution prohibits allocations of public money to a private religious institution — something that Kulik said wasn’t noticed until late in the bill’s review process. The bond bill passed in the House of Representatives this week with the Farren earmark omitted.
The second section of the constitution’s 18th amendment says that “no grant, appropriation or use of public money or property or loan of public credit shall be made or authorized by the commonwealth or any political division thereof for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any ... religious undertaking which is not publicly owned ... or aiding any church, religious denomination or society.”
“(It) is disappointing, to say the least,” said Kulik.
Still, he said the state will likely increase the center’s Medicaid reimbursement rates, allowing enough money for the health system to borrow against over time to fund the project. Nearly all of the center’s 122 patients are covered by the state Medicaid health program for the poor.
But Christopher McLaughlin, the health system’s chief operating officer and senior vice president, said it would be very difficult to borrow the amount of money needed to pay for a renovation or new construction. He hopes that state officials or legislators can find some other way to allocate money.
“We need help from the state,” he said. “Farren is the only facility of its kind.”
Patients come to the facility from across Massachusetts, often as a last resort after being turned away from traditional nursing homes. About 200 employees work at the center, though not all work full time.
McLaughlin said that the health system will continue planning what a new or renovated facility would look like.
He said that if the aging facility were to suddenly need major repairs, like if the 36-year-old boilers were to stop working, it may cause the health system to question the future of Farren.
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