By Richard Asinof
TAUNTON – Nurses reacted with anger to the news that the Mass. Department of Mental Health planned to close Taunton State Hospital with its 169 beds, one of only six state-operated mental health facilities in the state to care for people suffering from acute and chronic mental illness.
The state announced it plans to move 120 of the 169 beds to the new Worcester State Hospital, with the other 45 beds going to Tewksbury State Hospital.
“This is a cold hearted and dangerous decision that will have devastating consequences for the mentally ill in our state,” said Karen Coughlin, a nurse at Taunton State Hospital and vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association/National Nurses United. “We have no mental health care safety net in Massachusetts. There are not, and have not been, enough beds or services in the system for years. This decision will only exacerbate a long standing crisis.”
According to Coughlin, many of the patients at Taunton State Hospital are frail, elderly mentally ill patients who can’t be cared for in nursing homes; a large percentage of patients have a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse which complicates their placement in community settings. “We have a number of women suffering from serious trauma who are self abusive and suicidal and need intensive mental health monitoring and care,” she said. “These are patients that often have nowhere else to go in the system,” Coughlin explained.
Overall, there is a shortage of psychiatric beds throughout the entire health care system in our state, including the public and private sector, according to Coughlin. She predicted that as a result of the closing at Taunton State Hospital, people will go without care, crime will increase, homelessness will increase, more people will end up in the corrections system and many more will commit suicide.