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Baystate Health Advancing Plan For New Behavioral Health Hospital

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WAMC
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     Plans are in the works to build a $43 million standalone psychiatric hospital in western Massachusetts. 

      Baystate Health and Kindred Healthcare, a Louisville, Kentucky-based for-profit company are partnering to build a new $120 million state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital.

      Dr. Mark Keroack, President and CEO of Baystate, said the new facility will help alleviate a severe local shortage of behavioral health treatment beds.

    "It means we will have far fewer patients leaving the area when they need inpatient psychiatric care and far fewer patients waiting long periods of time when they need an inpatient bed," said Keroack.

      Last year, more than 25 percent of the roughly 4,000 people who came to Baystate’s emergency rooms with behavioral health problems were ultimately sent out of western Massachusetts for treatment, and many waited days for an inpatient bed to open up, said Keroack.

       "It is not a therapuetic thing when a person needs acute inpatient psychiatric care to have to sit in an emergency room day-after-day," said Keroack.

      The new hospital will have a pediatric unit. There are currently no inpatient behavioral health facilities for children and adolescents in western Massachusetts.

      The former Holyoke Geriatric Authority nursing home that closed in 2014 is the preferred location for the new hospital, but Keroack said the site has not yet been purchased from the city.

      " We are in conversations with them," Keroack said during a press  conference Tuesday.

       When the new hospital opens in 2022, if all goes according to plan, Baystate intends to close psychiatric wards at community hospitals in Greenfield, Westfield, and Palmer.   The move is sure to raise local concerns about the loss of jobs and access to behavioral healthcare in those smaller communities.

     "We don't want to sugarcoat the genuine loss of these units that are providing to this day excellent care," said  Dr. Barry Sarvet, who chairs Baystate’s department of psychiatry.  

      He said  there is a greater upside to having a brand new  centralized hospital.

     " We believe it will result in improvements in patient experience and in clinical outcomes that we cannot accomplish with our current configurations," said Sarvet.

      The new facility will be a teaching hospital which Sarvet said could help reduce the current shortage of psychiatrists practicing in the region.

     " Having a teaching hospital really improves the care of patients," said Sarvet.

      Trouble with recruiting staff psychiatrists was one of the reasons cited by Trinity Health of New England for closing Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke earlier this year.

      Baystate has pursued the idea of a standalone psychiatric hospital for years.  In 2019, Baystate  announced a partnership with US HealthVest, but later broke it off when published reports alleged substandard care at some of the for-profit company’s facilities.

         Kindred, which operates physical rehabilitation centers across the country, including one at Baystate Nobel Hospital in Westfield, is relatively new to the behavioral health field.  The company’s behavioral health division is just a year old.

      Kindred has two behavioral health hospitals in Texas and runs behavioral health units at two hospitals in Illinois.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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