Concerned nurses to meet over psych unit move

  • Recorder/Paul FranzBaystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/25/2019 10:53:34 PM

GREENFIELD — In response to the potential closure of the psychiatric unit at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, State Rep. Paul Mark, City Councilor Sheila Gilmour and local nurses will be gathering Thursday to discuss the proposition that has them concerned.

The gathering will be in the meeting hall of the Episcopal Church of Saint James and Saint Andrew on Federal Street at 5 p.m.

Mark said he wants to ensure there are no cuts to services or treatment options locally.

“Right now, in western Massachusetts, we are already struggling to provide adequate behavioral health care to our loved ones and neighbors,” Mark said in a release put out by the Massachusetts Nurses Association Monday.

Baystate Health announced earlier this month its plans to build a behavioral health hospital with the for-profit organization US HealthVest that would create 30 percent more beds overall. The proposal would close the mental health units at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer.

Last week Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse endorsed Baystate’s bid to purchase the site of the former Geriatric Authority on Lower Westfield Road. The Holyoke City Council is considering the $250,000 offer for the property from the group called B2 Health, LLC. The company registered with Massachusetts in November and is listed under the President and Chief Executive Officer of US HealthVest Dr. Richard Kresch.

“This is a project that would reactivate the site, bring jobs and generate more tax revenue,” Morse said Monday. Since US HealthVest would be running the hospital, the usual tax exempt status of Baystate would not apply and the money would go back into Holyoke’s tax base.

He said he has not had any direct communication with Baystate or US HealthVest through this process. The request for proposal process goes through the state Planning and Economic Development Department. The proposal for the Geriatric Authority building that is valued at $4.1 million could be approved by the Holyoke City Council as early as March 5.

Baystate Health spokeswoman Shelly Hazlett said since making the announcement Feb. 4 they have received “a lot of positive feedback and support from the community.”

“While we are still in the early stages, we will continue to share information over the many months ahead,” Hazlett said.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin, a former psychiatric nurse, expects to meet with representatives from Baystate on Thursday.

City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud works for the Massachusetts Nurses Association and is expected to be in attendance at Thursday’s forum.

Gilmour, who was on the picket line with the nurses during their contract negotiations with the hospital last summer, opposes the current plan.

“It strains credulity to believe that Baystate’s plan to close dozens of mental health beds in Greenfield, Westfield and Palmer will improve the situation,” Gilmour said in a release by the nurses union. “We need more high-quality, local services and should all be wary of any shift in resources toward a centralized, for-profit model.”

Local health advocates have expressed a desire to hear more about what this plan will mean for care in Greenfield.

At the time of the announcement, Franklin County Register Probate John Merrigan, the co-chair of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, said the “devil is in the details” of the plan.

“Historically we’ve advocated for local resources,” Merrigan said on Feb. 4. “If, in fact, they move this to Springfield that becomes a barrier.”

On Monday, Clare Higgins, the executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley and the former mayor of Northampton said, “I’m worried that people will not get the services they need and I want to understand what the plan is.”

Psychiatric nurse and head of the local bargaining unit Donna Stern said these plans are “very troubling.”

“Baystate is always talking about keeping care local. That’s something we try to promote,” Stern said. “This plan goes against that because there will be nothing local.”

In recent years the unit she works in has seen an uptick in its services for people with addiction related issues.

“You’re trying to extract a profit off the backs of some of the most vulnerable citizens in our state,” Stern said.

About half of the people Stern says she works with have major mental health issues and are suffering from the opioid crisis. The dual diagnosis complicates treatment, but she said is easier handled in a general hospital setting like in Greenfield.

Greenfield Police has often noted it routinely brings people to the hospital for treatment following a Section 12 emergency commitment. Stern said many of the people she sees were brought into the hospital through a Section 12, cleared by the emergency department and brought to her unit. Without a psych unit in Greenfield, she said she does not know what will happen for those patients.

A chief complaint of Stern’s is the lack of public discourse leading up to the hospital’s announcement of its preliminary plans.

“They’ve obviously been having conversations behind closed doors,” Stern said. “No one was in those meetings. And no, boom, we’re doing this.”

Another issue raised involved insurance. Since Baystate is a non-profit, it has to take anyone who comes into the hospital, insurance or not. At a for-profit hospital, this is not necessarily the case.

“No matter how they spin it, they are not expanding services in Franklin County,” Stern said. “They are taking services out of this community.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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