STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 6, 2012…..Senate President Therese Murray called Monday for mental health resources to be available in “every community,” repeating the phrase for emphasis in front of Department of Mental Health officials who recently announced plans to close Taunton Hospital, a facility that serves Murray’s Cape Cod constituents.

“We have to make sure we have the resources, the mental health resources available in every community. And I’ll emphasize that – every community,” she said during a suicide prevention advocacy day in the State House’s Great Hall.

The Patrick administration has defended the proposal to close the Taunton facility to ensure that the agency lives within its budget, and DMH officials intend to move most of the hospital’s 169 beds to facilities in Tewksbury and Worcester, where a new hospital has been built.

The closure decision sparked an uproar among the Taunton region’s legislative delegation, which has pledged to fight the move in the upcoming budget process. Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset), a member of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s inner circle, said last week that the legislative delegation from Bristol County, where the hospital is located, hoped to work with Cape lawmakers to fight the closure.

Asked later to clarify her remarks, Murray said, “I’m referring to community-based services where we can have them and the fact that we can’t leave southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape and the Islands with no inpatient beds.”

Murray said she was not necessarily going to fight Patrick’s proposal to close Taunton State Hospital, but wanted first to know how the state would meet the needs of the region without it.

“I think we need to talk about how to provide mental health services to that part of the state. If you close Taunton, then what happens? I have great concerns about that. We’ve already heard from our hospitals, South Coast and the others that they have no capacity, so where do these people go?” Murray said.

Holding a map that showed how nearly all of the state was covered by a 60-miles radius from each remaining state inpatient mental health facility, Murray noted that the Cape and Islands fell outside that radius and Plymouth County and southeastern Massachusetts were on the edges.

“The members of the Senate who represent all of those areas are concerned, and I’m concerned too because that means I don’t have any beds,” Murray said.

With suicides tripling the murder rate in Massachusetts, mental health advocates called for heightened awareness of people at risk, typically middle aged adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

“Nearly all people who commit or attempt suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. Mental illnesses are treatable diseases,” said Clifford Robinson, a Department of Mental Health official who spoke on behalf of commissioner Marcia Fowler, who succeeded Barbara Leadholm as commissioner last week. “People can recover and choose life. This is why suicide is potentially preventable and this is why our work is so important.”

Deborah DiMasi, wife of former House speaker Salvatore DiMasi and a longtime advocate for suicide prevention funding, attended the hearing and received a warm reception, as well as a shout-out from Murray. Speaker DiMasi was sent to a Kentucky prison last fall on charges that he sold his influence in exchange for kickbacks. His whereabouts were uncertain Monday when the federal Bureau of Prisons reported that he was “in transit” from his Kentucky prison.

Deborah DiMasi, whose brother’s suicide prompted her to become an advocate for prevention measures years ago, embraced state Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach and Public Health Committee co-chair Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain) when she entered the room, and she stood between Auerbach and Murray.

Auerbach told the audience that a stigma about talking about suicide has tamped down awareness about its prevalence and impact on Massachusetts.

“The incredibly tragic suicide of the 12-year-old in New Bedford not long ago is just a reminder that we have to keep our guard up in terms of screening and making sure that we’re paying attention to folks who are showing signs that they may be at risk,” he said. “We don’t want suicide prevention to be thought of a pigeonholed effort … everybody needs to be aware about this. We need to ensure we have sensitivity in terms of screening and prevention. We’re going to make sure that we’re reaching the populations at greatest risk.”

Gov. Deval Patrick proposed funding suicide prevention efforts at $3.59 million in a fiscal 2013 budget he unveiled last month, a figure that Auerbach told the News Service would be a slight increase from last year’s appropriation to cover maintenance costs.


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