April 16, 2017

Editorial: An improved outlook for psychiatric services in Worcester

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No one facing a serious mental health problem in their family wants to hear that current facilities are full — they’ll have to go elsewhere.

A proposal announced last week involving UMass Memorial Health Care Inc. would make that scenario much less likely in Worcester.

If the agreement between UMass Memorial and New York-based US HealthVest LLC goes through, a 120-bed psychiatric hospital could open in early 2019. The facility would serve outpatients and inpatients of all ages, in a spacious existing office building at 100 Century Drive.

The location in the Burncoat neighborhood is convenient to the hospital system’s University and Memorial campuses. The psychiatric hospital would be about a 10-minute drive from each.

This deal is a welcome development — particularly in the wake of concerns expressed by some city leaders, health professionals and others in recent weeks over UMass Memorial’s plan to convert 13 of its 28 psychiatric beds at the University campus to medical/surgical beds.

UMass Memorial President and CEO Dr. Eric W. Dickson told the Telegram & Gazette that the two proposals are unrelated. The bottom line for the public, nevertheless, amounts to a significant net gain. Approval of both plans — adding a 120-bed psychiatric hospital on Century Drive and losing 13 psychiatric beds at the University campus’ 8 East ward — would mean that in about two years, 107 more beds would be available for area residents in need of psychiatric care.

Despite health care and biotechnology representing robust segments of our local economy, Worcester has long been considered comparatively “under-bedded” in terms of its capacity to serve inpatients of all kinds. The T&G reports: “When the Department of Public Health mapped the beds in 2014, metro Boston had about 58 beds for every 100,000 people. Central Massachusetts had about 17 beds for every 100,000 people.”

The proposed facility will help ease that disparity.

And as a for-profit hospital, the psychiatric treatment facility could bring significant tax revenue to Worcester. UMass Memorial Health Care, which has five hospitals as well as clinics and a doctors’ group in Central Massachusetts, is a nonprofit operation.

Jobs and other benefits will also result from opening a modern healthcare facility needed by its community.

Plans for the $18 million-$20 million project have been filed with, and await approval from, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission. The new business, Worcester Behavioral Innovations LLC, would be 33 percent owned by a UMass Memorial subsidiary, UMass Memorial Health Ventures Inc., according Worcester Business Journal, with the rest owned by US HealthVest affiliate Team Behavioral Health LLC.

No one can predict whether or when someone close to us might need the help of well-trained, well-equipped mental health professionals. To area residents, having a versatile facility at the ready will be invaluable.

This effort represents a healthy reinvestment in the city by UMass Memorial Health Care.

We commend all involved and hope the proposal wins quick approval.

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