Baystate Franklin mental health unit closure on council’s agenda

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2019 8:01:18 PM

GREENFIELD — City Council will discuss a resolution urging Baystate Health to preserve the mental health unit East Spoke at Baystate Franklin Medical Center at its meeting Wednesday.

In February, Baystate Health announced its plans to close the unit, along with its counterparts at the Baystate hospitals in Palmer and Westfield, during the next two years in trade for a behavioral hospital in Holyoke.

In March, “Holyoke City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed purchase of land in Holyoke so that plans can proceed to build an inpatient behavioral health hospital,” according to Nancy Shendell-Falik, president of Baystate Medical Center and senior vice president of hospital operations of Baystate Health.

Before Baystate expressed formal interest in the Holyoke site, it formed B2 Health LLC with US HealthVest, which registered with the state in November.

B2 Health LLC purchased the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority at 45 Lower Westfield Road for $250,000.

“Baystate Health is partnering with US HealthVest, a national company with specialized expertise in inpatient psychiatric care, to build and operate a behavioral health hospital in western Massachusetts,” according to a February press release from Baystate. “This joint venture will increase capacity in Baystate Health’s service area by greater than 30 percent for inpatient behavioral health care for adults and children/adolescents in a dedicated, state-of-the-art hospital in our local area.”

One of the reasons Baystate officials opted to close the existing units is because “current community hospital facilities where this care is provided are aging and decentralized. A hospital dedicated to the inpatient needs of behavioral health patients will provide a much-needed resource for the region.”

While the timeline is unclear, it is in the early stages of the process, and outpatient and partial hospitalization services will continue at the respective hospitals.

Local state lawmakers have characterized the move, or least the public communication of it, as rash. The Massachusetts Nurses Association vehemently opposes the move.

Suzanne Love, an emergency room nurse at Baystate Franklin and junior co-chairwoman of the bargaining unit, said she’s seen a bed shortage first-hand.

“Whether they are a danger for themselves or to others, or they need help to be stabilized, we don’t let them leave until we find placement for them,” Love said. “Sometimes they have to wait for five or six hours; sometimes they have to wait 10 or 12 days.”

Love added that the new facility in Holyoke would add pediatric, adolescent and geriatric beds, as well as for adults, “so the 30 percent increase isn’t that much.”

“The union believes Baystate should open the facility in Holyoke,” Love said. “And keep the local ones open as well. They will get enough people to have the services operate. ... Mental health isn’t as cost-effective as hip replacements, but it’s still an important part of health care.”

The resolution, which requires a two-thirds vote by City Council to pass, “urges Baystate Health to preserve the acute inpatient mental health unit” at the hospital in Greenfield and states statistics about mental health in Franklin County as submitted by Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. at the John Zon Community Center.

One point of reasoning includes, “Baystate Franklin patients spend an average of five hours and 20 minutes … in an ER before being admitted to an inpatient, almost 20 minutes longer than the Massachusetts average and an hour longer than the national average. When patients who were once admitted to the beds at Franklin’s Mental Health Unit need to wait hours, days or even weeks in the Baystate Franklin Medical Center ER for a bed in Holyoke, timely and safe care for every patient in the ER will be jeopardized.”

According to the resolution, hospitalization rates for mental disorders, including substance abuse, in Franklin County are nearly 50 percent more than the state average.

Mental health diagnoses accounted for three out of the top 10 discharges at Baystate Franklin in 2017, according to the resolution.

Reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 263.


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