NAMI Board Member and Family Advocate Adds His Voice at Judiciary Oversight Committee


My name is Tom Kavanaugh. I am a board member of my local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter, the facilitator of the Bridgewater State Hospital Families Group, and the father of a son with mental illness who is currently being held at the hospital.

About the Patients

If I may, I’d like to take a moment to describe just who the patient population is at Bridgewater.  Altogether, the hospital houses in the neighborhood of 220 patients at any given time. All the patients at the hospital have been stricken down with the horrific disease that is psychosis.  The initial onset of psychosis generally occurs in the late teens and early twenties.  It can disguise itself as “acting out”, or being “teen defiant”, but it progresses to delusional thought and behaviors.  None of them asked for this disease, just like nobody asks for cancer. Our children could be anyone’s children, hopefully not, but even your own. Our system (hospitals, police, judiciary) turned their backs on them when they needed help by not making available to them the care they needed.  Now, they find themselves justice-involved, with their liberties taken away, and locked in our states’ psychiatric hospital.  This illness has no cure, but in a proper setting and with proper treatment these individuals can progress and rejoin society. But this can only be accomplished in a proper therapeutic environment, not a punitive prisonlike setting.

The Problem

Massachusetts is one of the only states in the nation that manages its mentally ill population through the Department of Corrections, we are an outlier, and it shows. All other states utilize their respective mental health authorities to perform this task.  Our state’s hospital has had a horrific reputation over the years with people writing books, and producing movies about just how bad the situation is. It is an embarrassment to the Commonwealth.

The Disability Law Center is the federally mandated Protection & Advocacy agency for the state of Massachusetts. They are embedded in the Bridgewater facility, with weekly visits, and report out their findings every six months. I am going to read five brief points from their latest report.  Please think of your own children while I read this list and consider how horrified you would feel if your child was subjected to this environment.

  1. Excessive use of chemical restraint, which is only to be used under very narrow guidelines established in Mass G.L. c. 123, § 21.
  2. Widespread mold and environmental toxins in many of the buildings.
  3. Improperly documented physical restraint, and seclusion.
  4. They also call to permanently close the Intensive Treatment Unit and never allow another patient to experience the trauma of isolation in that space for any reason.
  5. For the Commonwealth to commit to closing and constructing a modern facility designed to provide psychiatric evaluations and treatment in a safe, therapeutic environment and to be placed under the control of the DMH, not the DOC.

Senator Eldridge has recently toured the facility, and he can attest to the extremely poor conditions that these individuals are forced to live in on a daily basis.  He has seen the mold, experienced the excessively high temperatures in the summer without air conditioning, graffiti on the internal walls, water leaking, etc.

As a consequence of these DLC findings, no, or very little corrective action is ever taken. Instead, the DOC issues a letter refuting what the DLC has reported and does nothing noticeable from the outside. This cycle has been repeating itself for many years now.

The Solution/Help Needed

Legislators, we need your help.

First, we need to get a new hospital built.  I don’t know if legislation has been started or not, but please look into drafting a Bill if not already in place.

Secondly, Representative Ruth Balser has a Bill to transfer control of the hospital from the DOC to the DMH. It made it farther through the legislative process last year than in all the years it has previously been on the books.  She will be refiling the Bill in January, please give this Bill your attention and support.  You are the only hope that the seriously ill population at Bridgewater has to ensure they can recover in a therapeutic environment that allows them to heal rather than being punished for being sick.

Thank you for your time this morning.

Tom Kavanaugh

NAMI Affiliate Board Member

Bridgewater State Hospital Families Group

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s