Baystate Franklin retaining mental health unit

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-25-2023 12:06 PM

GREENFIELD — For local nurses and mental health care advocates, the decision to keep the mental health unit open at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, rather than fully consolidate services to a new facility in Holyoke, has been met with relief.

“It’s honestly a really big relief that people in Greenfield are still going to be able to get mental health care at the local facility,” said Suzanne Love, a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at Baystate Franklin. “It’s serving the community; it’s what the community needs.”

The decision to keep the unit open was included at the end of a Baystate Health press release on Tuesday announcing an Aug. 15 opening date for the Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital, a $72 million, 150-bed facility in Holyoke that will increase capacity for inpatient behavioral health care for adults, children and adolescents. The move to keep a mental health care option available in Greenfield was based on geography and Baystate Franklin’s “strong history of integration of behavioral health services,” such as the 24/7 presence of recovery coaches in the Emergency Department, according to Baystate Health President Ronald Bryant.

“Baystate Franklin has spent many years building strength in behavioral health practices that really connect with a lot of the other types of care provided,” Bryant said in a statement. “We didn’t want to lose the continuity of that integration.”

The plan to close Greenfield’s 22-bed mental health unit was first announced in 2019, at which time Baystate Health representatives said the decision came as part of a plan to open a system-wide behavioral health hospital in Holyoke. The plans also included closing mental health units at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, for which the changes are continuing to move forward.

Behavioral health services from Baystate Wing Hospital and Baystate Noble Hospital, as well as pediatric behavioral health services from Baystate Medical Center, will begin to transition to the new Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital in August. The existing spaces in those facilities will then be converted to primary and specialty care or will be used to accommodate the increasing demand for inpatient medical services.

Baystate Health officials have argued that “current community hospital facilities where this care is provided are aging and decentralized.” The decision to close the Baystate Franklin unit, however, was met with pushback from the community.

“People with mental health conditions are not uni-faceted,” Love said on Wednesday, adding that patients could suffer from physical ailments as well. “They could have pneumonia; they could have a wound … there are lots of reasons people might need inpatient care.”

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As a triage nurse in the Emergency Department, Love said she often meets people who come in seeking mental health care. And while they may be willing to go somewhere else, Baystate Franklin is their first choice.

“This is where they can walk to; this is where their family can walk to,” she said. “People don’t always have cars and family is a really important part of getting better, no matter what’s going on with you.”

Donna Stern, a registered nurse in the mental health unit at Baystate Franklin, said in a statement that she is glad to know people in the Greenfield area will continue to have access to inpatient mental health services close to home.

“The potential closure of our mental health unit would have made it harder for patients to access quality care, recover close to their loved ones and connect with local resources,” she said.

Betty Tegel, a Turners Falls resident and advocate for people with disabilities, echoed a similar sentiment. People need a place they can walk to and, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, people need mental health services now more than ever, she said.

“I think it’s essential that we have services in Franklin County because people do not have transportation to those services,” Tegel said.

John Merrigan, Franklin County register of probate and co-chair of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and North Quabbin, said the decision to keep Baystate Franklin’s mental health unit open is “fantastic news.”

“There’s probably not a month that goes by that … somebody doesn’t come onto [the Opioid Task Force’s] radar that needs that kind of support, locally,” he said. “The loss of those beds was going to be painful and I’m very pleased to see that they’re keeping them available.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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