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Fowler Unit remains open as Baystate cuts ties with US HealthVest

Dozens of people gathered at the site of the derelict Holyoke Geriatric Authority building in a September protest where the proposed mental health facility is planned. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- Baystate Health announced Nov. 6 that it would be ending its partnership with the controversial US HealthVest in a venture to move mental health facilities in Western Massachusetts to a single facility in Holyoke. 

In a statement from Baystate Health CEO Mark A. Keroack, they said that they would seek a new company partner, and that they still intend to open the larger mental health facility on Lower Westfield Road in Holyoke. 

“We will continue to focus on providing an enhanced patient care environment in a state-of-the-art facility, increased access for adults, expanded access to specialized care for children and adolescents, and integrated and coordinated care. As we move forward, we recognize that we cannot do so alone, and we will work to identify a new partner in this effort,” said Keroack in the statement. 

Baystate’s partnership with US HealthVest was met with strong opposition by nursing unions and mental healthcare advocates. Over the Summer, a Seattle Times investigation revealed that the company had been neglecting patient safety and committing documentation fraud while putting financial decisions first. 

Baystate Health had been reviewing its partnership with US HealthVest since the report came out. Soon after the investigation was published, protests by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and other supporters began happening at the location of the proposed mental health facility in Holyoke and at Baystate in Springfield. 

“Baystate Health should have done its homework in the first place and never partnered with a for-profit company that was treating its patients and staff so disgracefully,” said Donna Stern, a psychiatric nurse at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and senior co-chair of the BFMC Bargaining Committee, “We are glad that Baystate has heard the concerns of the community and ended its partnership with US HealthVest. Now Baystate must listen fully and promise to keep care local no matter what. Local mental health services in our communities means better access and higher quality care. We should be expanding mental health care in our communities, not making cuts and moving it away.”

Baystate’s proposed plan is to close mental health units in Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, and BFMC in Greenfield. Those three units would be replaced by the larger facility that is being planned in Holyoke. 

Opponents of the move, like the members of the MNA, said that moving the mental health units away from local care will compromise the patient’s mental health care and make it unnecessarily difficult for patients and their families. 

“There are enough barriers to mental health care,” said Suzanne Love, a nurse at Baystate Franklin and chair of the MNA at a protest in September, “Let’s not add a physical barrier.”

In Keroack’s statement, they said that the three mental health units, including Noble Hospital’s Fowler Unit, will remain open in the meantime while they find a new corporate partner. 

“This proves we cannot trust the kind of decisions Baystate makes in regard to whom they choose to open a for-profit facility with,” Stern said. “But we know one thing we can trust is the local care we provide now in our communities. If Baystate wants to expand something that already works, then why not expand local mental health care?”

The proposed relocation of the mental health units comes as Baystate is making many changes and cuts to its own system. In August, Baystate Noble Hospital closed its Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Care Unit. Patients in need of either unit will instead be transported to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

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