OUR VIEW: The human side of the Taunton State Hospital equation 06/19/2012

OUR VIEW: The human side of the Taunton State Hospital equation
Source: Taunton Daily Gazette

 The stories of the families who regularly visit their loved ones at Taunton State Hospital reveal the gravity of the decision that now lies in the hands of a joint conference committee on Beacon Hill. Within the next week, the House and Senate conference committee is expected to reconcile the differences between a House and Senate version of the budget.

The House budget authorizes the Patrick Administration’s plan to shutter Taunton State Hospital and allocate $8.5 million for a private vendor or vendors to provide 30 psychiatric beds in a group home setting in southeastern Massachusetts. The Senate plan would maintain 72 beds at the in-patient psychiatric facility.

In a series of articles in Sunday’s editions, family members of TSH patients who spoke about the effect of the closure made clear the personal devastation — and public danger — that could occur. For these psychiatric patients, routine is a crucial component of their treatment. Regular routines and visitors can help them to thrive.

Among the people who would be affected by a Taunton State Hospital closure is Karen Curtis. The Harwich resident’s 22-year-old son is civilly committed at the facility. If he were to be transferred to the new Worcester Recovery Center (one of two facilities where TSH patients would be transferred following the proposed closure), it would mean a 2½-hour drive for Curtis, a significant hardship to this Cape Cod family and others like it.

Under the House budget, Curtis’ son might qualify for one of the 30 psychiatric beds in the region. But she worries that other patients could be forced into a community setting, which would not be appropriate for people like her son.

Families of Taunton State Hospital patients say that, in anticipation of the closure, DMH officials have been trying to push some families into placing their loved ones in community settings, which could be of detriment to the patients and the community at large.

Some of these facilities are understaffed, said state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton. And as Curtis said, such group homes simply don’t have the security necessary to keep tabs on some patients who need the extra attention, like her son. “The regular group homes are places where people can come and go,” Curtis said. “They are expected to be completely independent, which is far different from the hospital, and that is a real problem for many patients whose families are being asked to consider the group homes. A lot of these people can’t be discharged too soon and can’t be managed in the community.”