Danna Mauch: Baystate’s plan for psychiatric units is concerning

Published: 10/26/2019 9:02:15 AM

I am writing to express concerns of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH) regarding Baystate Health Systems’ plan to close inpatient psychiatric units in Greenfield, Westfield and Palmer and open a new stand-alone facility in Holyoke.

MAMH was a plaintiff in Brewster v. Dukakis, the court case that created the community mental health system in western Massachusetts as a national model 40 years ago. Access to effective, local inpatient care is an essential component of the person-centered, community-based service system envisioned when the consent decree for that case was approved.

We are concerned that Baystate’s plan could undermine that vision and have negative consequences for people who need quality acute inpatient care. We urge Baystate’s leaders to follow these important principles:

■ All mental health services, including inpatient care, should be provided as close to the person’s home as possible. This is essential to successful discharge planning, which requires close collaboration with treatment, services, and supports available through providers based in the community. It is also important to ensure that family and friends — often critical to supporting the person’s recovery — can visit and stay connected to the person when their involvement is helpful and positive.

■Behavioral health care is most successful when it is integrated in programs and settings where behavioral health and medical care providers can work closely together. A stand-alone facility risks creating a barrier to communication between behavioral health and the broader health care system. Most important, it risks further stigmatizing behavioral health as separate and distinct from other medical issues — a concept that is both outdated and inaccurate.

■As the state’s licensing authority for inpatient psychiatric services, the Department of Mental Health must have mechanisms in place to effectively monitor services and treatment at any new facility. The introduction of an out-of-state vendor with no connections to western Massachusetts makes accountability both more challenging and more important.

It is essential that the hospital understands the unique needs and interests of the people and communities it serves, as well as meeting the state’s high standards for quality and effectiveness of care.

State officials responsible for approving changes in access to inpatient psychiatric services must ensure compliance with the permanent injunction that remains in effect on behalf of people living with mental health conditions in western Massachusetts.

Danna Mauch

The writer is president and CEO of the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health in Boston.

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