Council tables resolution to keep Baystate Franklin mental health unit open

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

Staff Writer
Published: 6/20/2019 5:42:57 AM
Modified: 6/20/2019 5:42:47 AM

GREENFIELD — A resolution urging Baystate Health to preserve the acute inpatient mental health unit East Spoke at Baystate Franklin Medical Center was tabled at the City Council meeting Wednesday night.

The resolution, which required a two-thirds vote by City Council to pass, stated statistics about mental health in Franklin County as submitted by Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud.

Each councilor spoke in favor of the resolution, urging that the hospital keep the mental health unit open.

Precinct 2 Councilor Mark Berson said he would like to hear from representatives from Baystate as well as local police chiefs, towns and other impacted parties about how the change would affect them.

“I would like to have the people from all the towns come before us, to say this is not only bad for us, but it’s bad for Franklin County, so we can build a record,” Berson said.

At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass said he agreed with Berson.

“(The resolution is) well-intentioned, but it has very little effect,” Mass said. “A more meaningful effect would be the opportunity to have people from the hospital here answering questions. I would like to hear what they have to say and ask follow-up questions. My main concern is the quality of care for mental health patients.”

Renaud said she believed in passing the resolution as a first stop.

“It can’t stop here. This is the first step. We are the leaders saying ‘Don’t do this. You can’t do this,’” said Renaud. “Baystate said this was going to be closed in two years in February. We’re in for a long campaign.”

Councilor Brickett Allis, who is running for mayor, said he’s in the camp to table the resolution.

“Tabling this allows the option to extend an invite here, to hear answers to questions and blast them if they don’t,” Allis said. “I believe we are all on the same page. We feel it’s the wrong decision that they’ve made ... Typically I’m not in favor of resolutions not in our purview, but this one is important.”

Residents came forward to speak in favor of the resolution.

Patricia Williams said there is a need in the area for local mental health services.

“I’ve seen folks who I call ‘the walking wounded.’ Many folks are veterans or young people and they would need to be sent out to Holyoke,” said Williams.

“Everyone here knows we’ve had a serious opioid epidemic,” Williams said, and that people have gone to Baystate Franklin Medical Center for help.

Susan Worgaftik said she believed the Holyoke mental health facility should be constructed and keep East Spoke open because of the need for mental health services.

“We need this facility for emergencies,” Worgaftik said. “They don’t happen between nine and five, they happen because there is need now.”

Disability advocate and Turners Falls resident Betty Tegel echoed the need for urgent care for people in Franklin County.

“I worry about what will happen to the clientele when they don’t have transportation,” Tegel said. “They need immediate care — these crises happen today, tomorrow, overnight, during the day.”

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.

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.

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




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