Rally protests Baystate’s plan to close 3 mental health units

  • Tim Ranney-Blake, of Deerfield, said from his experience with depression and substance abuse, he knows how difficult it would be for patients working toward recovery to do so when separated from their community, at a rally held by the Massachusetts Nurses Association in Holyoke.  STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • A rally was held at the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority building, purchased by Baystate and US HealthVest to build a for-profit mental health facility. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Sarah Ahern, a Charlemont resident, shares her experience as a patient in a Baystate mental health unit at the rally in Holyoke.  STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Baystate Franklin mental health unit nurses Patrick Boyd-Owens and Daniel Seward went to the Massachusetts Nurses Association rally in Holyoke after working together in the hospital.  STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • About 40 people came to Holyoke to participate in a rally hosted by the Massachusetts Nurses Association on Monday while Arlene Wow sang. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • Sheila Gilmour, Greenfield City Council member and a mayoral candidate, speaks about keeping the mental health unit at Baystate Franklin open. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2019 10:56:24 AM

HOLYOKE — Over 40 people gathered Monday to protest Baystate Health’s closure plan at the former site of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority building, which was purchased by Baystate and US HealthVest to build a for-profit mental health facility.

Baystate Health announced in February it intends to build a behavioral health hospital with US HealthVest in the next two years. As part of the plan, it would close the mental health unit East Spoke at Baystate Franklin Medical Center as well as its counterparts at the Baystate hospitals in Palmer and Westfield — to add 30 percent more beds, a total of 90.

Among the crowd were state Rep. Aaron Vega, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, Baystate Franklin nurses, patients and advocates to speak about keeping inpatient behavioral health services at Baystate Wing, Noble and Franklin. The rally was sponsored by the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Baystate Franklin nurse Patrick Boyd-Owens, of Shelburne, works in the mental health unit and drove to Holyoke to participate in the rally after a shift at the hospital. He said for the Valley to have one service is inappropriate.

“These are people in crisis and they need to stay local,” Boyd-Owens said. “People will be taken from their support systems and come here, and then try to coordinate aftercare. I choose to work in a community where I live and care for my community and neighbors. I hope Baystate does the right thing by them, and their smaller county base.”

Daniel Seward, a co-worker of Boyd-Owens, said he fears for the people who are economically disadvantaged.

“This is a rural area and I have a relationship with a lot of these people. For some of them, I have taken care of their kids, their parents,” Seward said. “For some of the poorer families, how are they going to get down here? They’re going to be better supported by their own community.”

Tim Ranney-Blake, of South Deerfield, spoke about his experience as a previous patient from the mental health unit at Baystate Franklin.

He said he received the support he needed which is why he advocates for others to have access to the same treatment.

“I am not going to step back,” said Ranney-Blake.”I am going to step forward and I am going to keep telling Baystate: end this partnership now. End it now. It’ll be so much easier for you if you do. In order to keep it quality, it’s got to be local and accessible.”

He said as a member of the recovery community, he knows there are people who don’t have transportation, which poses another problem.

“You’re not going to get somebody from up there down here and back in a day,” said Ranney-Blake. “Hear me and help me to say stop this partnership now.”

Charlemont resident Sarah Ahern said she is a woman who has survived traumas that have labeled her with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and anxiety. Many times, Ahern said she needed inpatient care to help her manage her symptoms.

“Imagine having to navigate a broken system, involuntarily spending multiple days in an ER and sent to treatment three hours away,” Ahern said. “Now you’re beginning to understand my story.”

Ahern said she was comforted by people who knew her and who were looking out for her, and that she was sharing her story for those who do not have the resiliency that she had.

“We are not second class citizens,” Ahern said. “To move our mental health care to a for-profit setting would block access to our most vulnerable who may need it, by not taking insurance many of us have.”

The potential closure of the 22-bed East Spoke psychiatric unit saw local pushback in Greenfield, however, with the Greenfield City Council discussing a resolution to Baystate Health urging it to preserve East Spoke during a June meeting. The matter was tabled by the council, with hopes of hosting Baystate representatives to come to a meeting to answer questions from the council.

In August, Baystate Health announced it’s reviewing its alliance with US HealthVest.

The announcement came following a Seattle Times investigation into US HealthVest, a national behavioral health provider, that states the company brought to Washington state “a model proven to deliver profits that has routinely failed vulnerable patients.” The investigation details patient neglect, fraudulent documentation of care, dangerous staffing levels and even an assault linked to cost-saving efforts.


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