City closer to sale of Holyoke Geriatric Authority property

  • The former Holyoke Geriatric Authority in situated in the Ingleside section of the city. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2020 6:46:18 PM

HOLYOKE — The city is close to completing a deal to sell the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority property to Baystate Health and its partner Kindred Healthcare to build a 120-bed behavioral health hospital.

At a meeting of the City Council’s Development and Government Relations Committee last week, the city’s director of planning and economic development, Marcos Marrero, said that Baystate submitted a proposal for the site earlier this year. Baystate and Kindred are looking to build the new $43 million hospital by fall 2022, closing three of their other western Massachusetts treatment facilities in the process.

“We feel like we’re soon in a position to potentially move it forward,” Marrero told the committee, noting that Kindred had not yet partnered with Baystate when the proposal was made and wanted to inspect the property before finalizing any agreement.

Baystate had previously agreed to purchase the property last year while in a partnership with a different organization — U.S. HealthVest. That partnership fell through, however, following a Seattle Times investigation that revealed US HealthVest had allegedly operated in Washington state with “a model proven to deliver profits that has routinely failed vulnerable patients.”

Baystate and U.S. HealthVest’s previous proposal was to buy the property for $250,000. At Thursday’s meeting, Marrero described Baystate’s current offer as “incredibly similar” to its previous one.

Under the plan, Baystate would close Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s 22-bed psychiatric unit, also known as East Spoke, as well as mental health units at Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer.

Local and state officials, as well as the Massachusetts Nurses Association labor union, have criticized those closures, which they say would hurt the health of local communities and put employees out of work.

Ward 2 Councilor Terence Murphy raised those same issues at Thursday’s committee meeting.

“Have we done any discussion with them about either potentially leaving one of those sites, or two of those sites, and doing something that would not take away psychiatric care in those other areas,” Murphy asked. “Have we done anything in terms of trying to provide some job security if in fact one or two or all three of those other facilities close?”

Marrero said that the city hasn’t yet brought up those issues during discussions, but that it is something he would look into.

In an email to the Gazette on Tuesday, Marrero noted that the city committee that evaluates requests for proposals is still reviewing Baystate’s proposal, which hasn’t been approved by the mayor or submitted to the City Council yet.

“This is not a done deal,” Marrero said. “As such, I can’t really comment on real estate proposals that are under consideration at this stage and would refer you to the comments I made at the DGR meeting.”

In a phone interview Monday, Murphy said that he had raised similar concerns when Baystate first proposed buying the property, but that no such conditions were included in the agreement. He noted that Holyoke recently lost 74 inpatient psychiatric beds at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital.

“We fought to keep our facilities open, and obviously others are in that same position,” he said. ‘It would be nice if, as a region, we could use that leverage … There’s potential that we can maybe get some compromise in terms of what’s going to be done and how it’s going to be done.”

It is ultimately up to the City Council to approve any purchase and sale agreement, which would be negotiated by Mayor Alex Morse.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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