In 2017 the Disability Law Center (DLC) met with Governor Charlie Baker and urged him to allocate funding to provide more comprehensive medical and psychiatric care at Bridgewater State Hospital (BSH). The governor allotted thirty-seven million dollars to transform BSH into a comprehensive healthcare system. As part of this transformation, mental health, medical care, and patient safety services were managed by healthcare providers, while correctional officers were reassigned to the BSH perimeter. Although the goal was to create a therapeutic hospital environment, the Department of Corrections remained in charge of the mental health facility.
The DLC holds a ten-year history of studying and monitoring BSH. Their mandate is to protect all those with disabilities, whether physical or mental. Their job is to monitor the facility to ensure proper conditions and treatment and report any abuses. They release a public bi-annual report on BSH. The recently-issued July 2022 report is cited as deeply disturbing with little to no marked improvements over the January 2022 report.
Due to their findings, the DLC strongly recommends that persons with mental disabilities be placed under the auspices of the Department of Mental Health (DMH) whose mandate and expertise is to care for those suffering, struggling, and coping with mental illness. In their professional opinion, this change in oversight would be in the best interest of the patients. This is also a move endorsed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
On a personal level, I want nothing more than to see BSH become better, make the necessary improvements recommended by the DLC and become the best model of care in the state. In spite of the January 2022 DLC report receiving a barrage of bad press, activism on the part of concerned family members, and legislative involvement, the July 2022 report describes little to no improvement in certain critical areas. This latest July report was a huge let-down and disappointment. Family members find it troubling and disheartening. We are frustrated with the lack of action and accountability.
Since the January 2022 DLC Report, Wellpath (the agency that provides healthcare at BSH) has had ample opportunity to correct the problems outlined in the DLC reports but failed to do so. The DLC and NAMI will continue to voice their concerns, but now is the time for advocates to push for legislative change to place BSH under the DMH, the agency designed to care for those living with mental illness.
Donna Winant, Advocate, FFIMI Director