Representative Michael Day, who moderated the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary oversight hearings on December 21 stated in the February 2022 issue of Commonwealth Magazine that the then recent Disability Law Center (DLC) report was “deeply disturbing.” Based on the January 2022 and July 2022 DLC reports, a barrage of damning news articles, meetings between the Criminal Justice Reform Caucus (CJRC) and Bridgewater State Hospital (BSH) families and follow-up CJRC visits to BSH, Donna Winant, Director of Families and Friends of Individuals with Mental Illness (FFIMI) and member of Bridgewater Families Group, was invited to speak on behalf of the families at the oversight hearings. She stated many of the reasons family members strongly believe BSH must be placed under the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and into a new facility.
MA is an outlier – one of only two states in the United States to place this population, those with Serious Mental Illness who are justice involved, under the Department of Correction (DOC).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states, “For decades the Commonwealth has asked its state prisons to take responsibility for people who have issues such as mental illness and substance abuse disorders. In virtually every other state in the country, these same individuals would be cared for by the state mental health and public health systems. People who have not been convicted of a crime, those found not guilty due to mental illness, and all who meet the strict criteria for civil commitment must be the sole responsibility of our state mental health systems. Continuing to require our state prisons to care for them is costly, both in economic and human terms.”
FFIMI offers this list of the primary reasons BSH should be under the oversight of the Department of Mental health (DMH):
- Wellpath’s contract with DOC requires that DOC review and approve Wellpath policies. This means penal system policies push the type of care, or lack of care, for those with serious mental illness at BSH
- The Department of Mental Health (DMH) must comply with state law regarding seclusion and restraint, something BSH has failed to do (documented in the January and July 2022 federally-mandated DLC reports).
- Attorney Tatum Pritchard of the Disability Law Center (DLC) confirms the following
- DMH has superior regulations for training staff
- DMH has a more developed de-escalation policy than BSH
- Moving BSH to DMH would mean better outcomes for patients
- The coalition of the Bridgewater Families Group (BFG) confirms that their loved ones who are moved from BSH to DMH receive improved treatment, resulting in less suffering and a better quality of life. This is the result of:
- DMH policies align better with the needs of people with mental illness
- DMH focuses on a therapeutic and healing environment.
- DMH individualizes treatment
- Involvement in their loved ones’ care is more accessible in the DMH
The DLC tells us in its reports that it is incumbent upon the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to build a new facility for patients with Serious Mental Illness that now reside at BSH. The DLC report states that the building and conditions at BSH are “not safe for anyone.” The DLC, as well as NAMI, MA, also state that BSH belong under the auspices of the Department of Mental Health (DMH), those who have the expertise and the mandate to take care of those with SMI, even when justice-involved.
The families of BSH patients are so grateful to the many leaders in the legislature that are fighting for this marginalized population at BSH. Special thanks to Representative Michael Day and Senator Jamie Eldridge for their dedicated work and for leading out in the Judiciary hearings. It is time to legislate and provide best practices for those who did not choose their mental illness.