City closer to sale of Holyoke Geriatric Authority property

  • The Holyoke Geriatric Authority, pictured here in September 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/10/2020 4:09:56 PM
Modified: 12/10/2020 4:09:45 PM

HOLYOKE — The City Council is set to consider a new bid from Baystate Health and its partner Kindred Healthcare to purchase the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority property to construct a new behavioral health hospital.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Development And Government Relations Committee, the city’s director of planning and economic development, Marcos Marrero, presented the Baystate-Kindred offer to purchase the property at 45 Lower Westfield Rd. for $250,000. The four members of the committee voted unanimously to recommend approving that agreement, which will now go before the full council.

That offer is similar to the offer Baystate Health and the organization U.S. HealthVest made in spring 2019 to build a behavioral health hospital. That partnership dissolved, however, after U.S. HealthVest ran into controversy after a Seattle Times investigation revealed US HealthVest had allegedly operated in Washington state with “a model proven to deliver profits that has routinely failed vulnerable patients.”

The city put the property back out for proposals a year ago, and Baystate again made a bid for the property, this time with its partner Kindred Healthcare to build a 120-bed behavioral health hospital. The building could hold as many as 150 beds, Marrero noted.

The development comes at a time when behavioral health services are in flux across the region. Earlier this year, Holyoke lost 74 inpatient psychiatric beds when Trinity Health shuttered Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, leaving the region with no behavioral health beds for children. Holyoke Medical Center, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans to build an 84-bed behavioral health pavilion.

The $43 million Baystate-Kindred project would mean the demolition of the Geriatric Authority buildings to make way for a new in-patient psychiatric care facility that would be between 70,000 and 125,000 square feet in size.

The project, however, has been opposed by the state’s nurses union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, as well as other advocates for community-based behavioral health services. In building the Holyoke facility, Baystate also plans to close mental health beds at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer.

Joe Markman, a spokesperson for the MNA, said Wednesday that the union’s primary concern is for patients and their ability to access care.

“If it’s removed from their community or a nearby community and moved somewhere else, that creates a barrier,” he said. “Especially for populations that have limited access to their own transportation or public transportation. It means they may just not get the care they need at all.”

Some Holyoke city councilors, such as Ward 2 Councilor Terence Murphy, had pushed for the city to include a provision about hiring city residents and those who lost their jobs at regional facilities Baystate intends to consolidate when the Holyoke facility opens. In their current proposals, Baystate and Kindred did agree to such language, though it is unclear whether that provision is at all enforceable.

“Operator commits to make good faith efforts to prioritize the hiring of qualified Holyoke residents,” the language reads. “The opening of the new behavioral health hospital will create employment opportunities in the community, and all qualified applicants will be considered, including individuals who currently work in the behavioral health units at community hospitals affiliated with Baystate Health.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Murphy suggested that Baystate should go beyond merely considering hiring its workers who would lose their union jobs at the community hospitals Baystate intends to close.

“I would encourage them to make that a commitment, and if it means that they’re union then so be it,” said Murphy, who also said he had concerns about patients being far from their families who may not have transportation to the Holyoke facility.

Marrero said that the project would bring 200 jobs to Holyoke, as well as approximately $205,000 in taxes per year that the organizations will be required to pay. 

Barry Sarvet, the chair of Baystate Health’s department of psychiatry, said that the consolidated facility would add as many as 80 additional in-patient beds to the region, despite the consolidation. He also said that the hospital would help families with transportation needs and that Baystate was committed to offering that help, though he said Baystate does not yet have a detailed transportation plan.

Those thoughts were echoed by Rob Marsh, the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Kindred. As for hiring of employees, he said the preference will be to hire locally whenever possible.

“Obviously if there is a movement toward union activity within this joint venture, we would in no way oppose that,” Marsh said. “We would obviously allow the employees to exercise their rights in forming a collective bargaining agreement.”

The city first declared the Geriatric Authority property as surplus and began marketing it in 2017. Originally built in 1954, the 13-acre site includes two buildings. The Geriatric Authority closed in 2014 amid financial struggles.

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


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