HOLYOKE — Many of the city’s elected officials and bigwigs joined senior Baystate Health officials atop the hill on the former Holyoke Geriatric Authority property on Lower Westfield Road on Tuesday. The mood was one of congratulations, with ceremonial shovels ready for the dignitaries to inaugurate the land.
The reason for the pump was the start of construction on the $72 million Baystate Behavioral Health Hospital — a 150-bed facility that, when it opens in August 2023, will begin to address what Baystate says is a “severe shortage.” » mental health beds across the region.
Executives from Baystate’s partner in the venture — Kindred Behavioral Health, a division of the private, for-profit hospital company LifePoint Health — were also in attendance.
“It’s great to watch a hall of faces for the first time in a long time,” Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, told those gathered on Tuesday, just a week after Holyoke lifted its mandate from mask.
Speaking over the sounds of strong wind whipping the sides of a heated tent at the site of the new hospital, Keroack said “the facts tell the story”. A quarter of adults and a third of children do not need needed mental health care, he said, and 681 behavioral health patients across the state were boarding emergency rooms, waiting for the type of beds that the new facility will provide. The need for beds is particularly acute for children, he said.
These long wait times for a vital service come amid a “growing mental health crisis” exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Keroack and others said. The new state-of-the-art hospital will increase patient access to behavioral health services by 30%, Keroack said, providing access to the most vulnerable and employing around 200 people in the process.
“It’s a myth that you can’t recover from mental illness,” said Barry Sarvet, chief of Baystate’s department of psychiatry. But these illnesses can be persistent and require treatment, he said.
Locally, the shortage of behavioral health hospital beds was exacerbated when national nonprofit Trinity Health announced its decision to eliminate 74 beds — some of which were the region’s only pediatric beds — at Providence Behavioral. Health Hospital in Holyoke in 2020. In 2021, for-profit Health Partners New England purchased the hospital and began reopening these beds.
Holyoke Medical Center also had plans to build its own 84-bed behavioral health hospital, but last year the plan was put on hold amid developments in Baystate and the former Providence Hospital, which is called now MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.
Of the 150 beds the new hospital will bring to the region, 30 will be for state Department of Mental Health patients receiving long-term treatment.
After construction of the new facility, Baystate will eliminate some 70 mental health beds at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, moving that care to the new hospital.
The closure of these mental health beds in community hospitals has drawn criticism from some, including the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Donna Stern, a psychiatric nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, said when the plan was announced that moving behavioral health services “to a centralized, for-profit facility will put up huge barriers in front of vulnerable patients.”
Kindred Behavioral Health will manage the day-to-day operations of the hospital, with Baystate Health psychiatrists and other practitioners providing medical care under Sarvet’s direction. LifePoint Health Director Jason Zachariah said Tuesday that the “public-private partnership” with the state was an important investment in meeting the increased need for mental health beds locally.
“It really is a crisis,” Zachariah said of the lack of mental health beds, the demand for which has only increased since the pandemic began.
Baystate originally announced plans to partner with the US HealthVest organization, bidding for the former Geriatric Authority property in the spring of 2019 to build the behavioral health hospital. That partnership, however, dissolved after a Seattle Times investigation reported that the company operated “a proven model for generating profits that has routinely let vulnerable patients down.”
Baystate returned to the project after announcing its new partnership with Kindred Behavioral Health. In December 2020, Holyoke City Council voted to sell the Geriatric Authority property for $250,000. The Geriatric Authority had closed in 2014 due to financial difficulties.
Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said the hospital will eventually bring some $1.5 million in tax revenue to the city each year. He said all credit for the project goes to others, given that he was only sworn in two months ago. But Tuesday’s event represented his first-ever breakthrough as mayor.
“Welcome to the city,” Garcia said.
Dusty Christensen can be contacted at [email protected]