Taunton Gazette Editorial: Override Patrick's Veto on Taunton State Hospital 07/10/2012

Our View: Override Patrick's veto on Taunton State Hospital
Source: South Cost Today

Gov. Deval Patrick's Community First Initiative, his justification for vetoing the plan to keep several dozen beds open at Taunton State Hospital for the mentally ill, aims to provide "care to individuals with disabilities in appropriate settings."

The pace of the process, however, threatens to hamper work toward that worthy goal, and the best way to ensure proper care for the vulnerable population served at Taunton State, avoid hardships for their families and for hundreds of workers, and administer responsible fiscal policy would be for the Legislature to override the governor's veto.

Patrick used his line-item veto to cut less than one-tenth of a percent of the $32.5 billion fiscal year 2013 budget he signed on Sunday. The state hospital line item for $5.1 million was intended to maintain 45 beds — cut from 169 — and to pay for an independent study of the state's mental health treatment system. Both deserve to be funded.

The budget item was crafted in a joint legislative committee that bridged a lot of territory. The House version called for 30 privatized beds in Southeastern Massachusetts, and the Senate wanted 72 beds to remain open at the hospital.

State Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, points out the irony of the governor's focus on Community First, considering the population currently and typically housed in Taunton.

Many are civilly or criminally committed, and would not be eligible for community-based services, but would be sent to the state's new facility in Worcester or to Tewksbury. Others are at risk of having their institutional care interrupted before they're ready for community-based services, increasing the likelihood of relying on the courts and penal system for their treatment, the vastly more expensive care plan.

These scenarios lead to the bottom-line conclusion that Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands will be bereft of the full continuum of mental health services.

Modern management, which encourages consideration of all stakeholders, dictates that the expense of relocating these services based on finances will have social impacts that promise to incur costs far beyond the budget items.

The governor's goals could be reached with less disruption of family lives — both for patients and workers — and with less intrusion into the courts and Southeastern Massachusetts emergency rooms by taking a bit more time to determine appropriate mitigations. Perhaps the budgeted study would determine Taunton should be shut down, but it would also offer insight into how best to accomplish the necessary changes without leaving treatment gaps for vulnerable residents served at Taunton State Hospital and long-term hardships for so many others.