Council 93 Leaders and Members Help Kick-Off Campaign to Save Taunton State Hospital 01/30/2012

The battle to stop the closure of Taunton State Hospital got off to a rousing start yesterday at a standing-room-only rally organized by State Senator Marc Pacheco – D Taunton.

Led by AFSCME Local 72 President and Council 93 Executive Board member Joanne Cooke, more than 50 AFSCME members working at the hospital turned out for the rally.  They were joined by a group of Council 93 Executive Board members and staff, and more than 150 mental health consumers, advocates, clergy members and other unionized employees of the facility.   

“This is not a done deal.  For those of you who think it is, get that idea out of your heads,” Pacheco told crowd gathered at the First Parish Church on Taunton Green.  The Senator’s strong words of encouragement were a major boost to the moral of AFSCME members.  But perhaps the biggest moral booster was the strong showing of solidarity Local 72 received from AFSCME leaders and staff who traveled to Taunton on Sunday to support their brothers and sisters who would be impacted by the closure.  Executive Vice President Charlie Owen led a delegation from the Council 93 Executive Board that included Christopher “Tiger” Stockbridge, Robert Denn and Paul Faria.  Council 93 staff members in attendance included Alva Arellano, Karen Hathaway, Mark Bernard, Jay Cassidy and Jim Durkin. “Stopping the closure of Taunton State Hospital is our top priority,” said Council 93 Executive Director Tony Caso.  “I am truly grateful to our executive board members who gave up their Sunday to help us demonstrate our strong commitment to the members of Local 72.”   

Last week, Patrick Administration officials announced plans to close Taunton Hospital and reallocate the facility’s 169 beds to other facilities including the new state Hospital in Worcester, Tewksbury State Hospital, and other community facilities. The plan would leave the entire Southeast region of Massachusetts without access to the vital services provided by state, inpatient mental health care facilities. Working with Senator Pacheco and other state legislators, the Council will be calling for the bed reallocations to be shared equitably among all other state facilities, which would allow the Taunton facility to remain open until adequate funding can be restored. 

In addition to Senator Pacheco, several other state and local elected leaders were on hand to offer their support.  State Representative Patricia Haddad D-Somerset told attendees she had already organized a January 31 meeting of house members from the region to formulate a strategy to block the closure.  Haddad, a high-ranking member of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team, was joined at the meeting by fellow house members David Sullivan – D Fall River, Keiko Orrall – R Lakeville and Shaunna O’Connell R- Taunton. 

Virtually every elected official and speaker at the rally stressed the importance of the involvement of every worker and consumer of the hospital in the grass roots effort to stop the closure.  “Every single one of us needs to get on the phone, every day and every night,” Pacheco said.

Durkin lauded Senator Pacheco for his efforts and leadership on the issue and urged every worker in attendance to build the moral of their co-workers and become “ambassadors” of Taunton State Hospital.  “Those who are here today need to spread today’s message of hope to your co-workers and then you all need to tell your friends and neighbors – everyone you know – about the important work you do,” Durkin said. 

AFSCME Local 72 represents more than 260 workers at Taunton State Hospital.  AFSCME members serve in a wide-range of critical positions at the facility including Mental Health Workers; LPNs; Occupational Therapists; Recreational Therapists; Groundskeepers; Campus Police Officers and much more.