Victory in Taunton 06/28/2012

BOSTON - Advocates for quality mental health care and maintaining the comprehensive and award winning services available at Taunton State Hospital scored a significant victory today when Massachusetts House and Senate lawmakers agreed to a Fiscal Year 2013 budget that keeps the facility open through next the next fiscal year beginning July 1.  The budget provides funding for 45 state-operated beds at the hospital and includes language calling for an advisory committee charged with conducting a comprehensive, independent analysis of public and private behavioral health care services available to residents of the commonwealth. The advisory committee is granted the power to commission an independent consultant to evaluate and analyze the public and private mental health care services in the state. A primary focus of the evaluation will be determining that the state has a sufficient number of inpatient beds and studying the impact that the closure of Taunton State Hospital would have on Southeastern, Massachusetts.  Under the legislation, AFSCME Council 93 is granted a seat on the advisory committee.

The victory is a major milestone in what is now a seven month battle that began when Governor Deval Patrick announced his intention to close Taunton State Hospital by the end of the calendar year.  The governor’s misguided plan calls for shifting care to the new state hospital in Worcester and Tewksbury State Hospital.  While the Patrick Administration assured workers at the hospital (including more than 260 members of AFSCME Local 72) that they would be offered jobs at the Worcester and Tewksbury facility, the plan would require the workers to travel at least 120 miles per day round trip.  Most importantly, it would strip residents and families in Southeastern, Massachusetts of the primary source of long-term, in-patient care beds thereby dealing a devastating blow to mental health care in that vast area of the state. 

Led by State Senator Marc Pacheco, Council 93 embarked on an aggressive grassroots and lobbying campaign to stop the closure.    In the days and weeks ahead, the Council will continue working closely with Senator Pacheco and other ley legislative leaders on strategies aimed at overriding a potential veto by Governor Patrick.  In addition, the Council will be preparing to be a loud and active voice on the advisory committee established by the legislature.