As The Boston Globe reported last week, Governor Patrick has “unveiled an ambitious and potentially costly plan” to reform the way the state’s criminal justice system handles mentally ill people.
The governor has proposed both a major increase in staff at Bridgewater State Hospital and a new facility there where potentially violent patients could receive care, according to the Globe.
We support the administration’s commitment to expanding care at Bridgewater State. But we wonder whether this is yet more evidence of what appears to be a double standard on the part of the administration with regard to care of the mentally ill versus persons with developmental disabilities.
The administration appears to believe that congregate settings are necessary and appropriate for the mentally ill, but not appropriate for the developmentally disabled. In fact, we think Governor Patrick will be known as a builder of major institutional facilities for the mentally ill, yet as a closer of facilities for the developmentally disabled. This appears to us to reflect the absence of a comprehensive plan by this administration for care of all disabled people in the commonwealth.
Why are we building new state facilities and expanding state-run care for one group, yet tearing facilities down, eliminating an intensive care model, and privatizing most services for another group?
In addition to the plans for expansion of Bridgewater State for the mentally ill, the administration has taken major credit for the construction of the new Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital. That facility, which opened in August 2012 at a cost of $302 million, has 320 beds for persons with mental illness. The administration has billed it as “the largest non-transportation construction project (the state has) undertaken in more than 50 years.”
The administration has also apparently realized that intensive treatment models are necessary for the mentally ill. According to the Globe, the administration has declared that mentally ill people “should receive the appropriate care in the appropriate setting.” The Bridgewater proposal includes a plan for spending $10 million for an additional 130 full-time mental health clinicians at the complex. Patrick administration officials told the paper that if the Legislature approves this funding promptly, the additional staff could be working at Bridgewater by September.
The Bridgewater proposal further calls for $500,000 to study the possibility of retrofitting an existing state facility such as Taunton State Hospital or building yet another a new facility to treat and evaluate potentially violent people accused of committing crimes, according to the Globe. The plan gives no cost estimate for the new facility.
At the same time, the administration is closing or has closed four of six developmental centers for people with profound levels of intellectual disability and severe medical conditions, contending these centers are too institutional. Developmental centers provide an intensive level of care that must meet federal Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) standards. ICF rules specify more staffing and monitoring than do federal and state requirements for privatized, community-based care in group homes.
Even sheltered workshops are considered by the administration to be too institutional for the intellectually disabled, and the administration has announced plans to shut those down by June of next year. The administration is, at the same time, pouring additional funding into privatized group homes for the intellectually disabled, scattered in communities throughout the state.
The argument could be made that the administration views institutional care as appropriate for people with mental illness who are violent, and that’s why it is expanding facilities such as Bridgewater State. But that doesn’t explain the construction of the Worcester hospital center; and it doesn’t explain why the administration is eliminating the ICF care model at facilities for the developmentally disabled such as the Templeton Developmental Center, where many people with behavioral problems live.
The alleged assault by a Templeton resident that caused the death last year of Dennis Perry shows that even that facility may not be fully equipped to meet the needs of all the people who live there, and keep them safe. And yet, the administration is closing Templeton as an ICF and converting the facility to group homes, which will only reduce the level of staffing and supervision there. Also, the attempted rape of a woman by a resident of a group home in Chelmsford in 2011 shows that there are intellectually disabled persons with potentially violent impulses who live in the DDS community system.
It has been argued that another difference between facilities for the mentally ill, such as the Worcester hospital center, and developmental centers for the developmentally disabled is that the Worcester facility is meant to help people make a transition to independent living in the community, whereas developmental centers are not intended to do so. Therefore, according to this argument, the developmental centers should be closed, and the remaining system will be devoted either to serving all disabled people in the community or helping them get there.
Our response to that argument is that we have consistently stated that residents of developmental centers who want to benefit, or can benefit from community-based care should be encouraged to do so. As far as we know, there has never been any rule or policy that prevented anyone who wanted to leave a developmental center from doing so and moving into the community system.
As we argued in connection with the Chelmsford group home incident, the real issue is the care model. The administration wants to eliminate the intensive, ICF care model for people with developmental disabilities. The administration does acknowledge that people with mental illness should receive the appropriate care in the appropriate setting. And they appear to understand that the community system is not the appropriate setting for all mentally ill people. But for some reason, the administration hasn’t yet figured out that the community system isn’t the appropriate setting for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities either.
We do believe that one day, the state will come to realize that institutional care for a certain segment of the developmentally disabled is needed, and there will be an effort to reconstruct our institutional facilities for them. Unfortunately, we’re making that future job much more difficult and expensive by tearing down the system that we have had in place and which we spent so much money to upgrade from the 1970’s onward.