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editorial

Taunton State Hospital: A jewel, or a redundancy?

The Taunton State Hospital specializes in treating a serious subset of the mentally ill, including people with severe psychosis. Patients include women who are too dangerous to be in correctional facilities and men fresh from the higher-security Bridgewater facility for the criminally insane. It’s a population that can’t easily — or, in some cases, safely — be absorbed into the state Department of Mental Health’s network of community-based group homes.

Nonetheless, the Patrick administration is still planning to shutter the 169-bed facility by year’s end and insists that there are enough beds to accommodate the patients at other facilities. It’s a reasonable decision, but the state shouldn’t take such a difficult-to-reverse step without an independent analysis. Such a study shouldn’t consume much time, but should answer lingering questions. Will the loss of the hospital leave a gap in mental health services from Brockton to Cape Cod, as critics contend? Or is it a meaningless geographic distinction in a statewide system, as the administration responds?

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Does the closure represent a net loss of beds for people with acute mental illness? Not with a new state hospital coming on line in Worcester, say mental health officials. But critics contend that the total of 626 state beds remaining after Taunton closes is significantly lower than what the mental health department stated as its actual need as recently as 2004.

Mental health commissioner Marcia Fowler says Taunton patients will be better off in the recently-built 320-bed Worcester facility, with an architectural atmosphere “designed to replicate the stages of recovery.’’ If so, she should have nothing to fear from an independent study of the ramifications of closing Taunton.

Amendments aimed at saving the hospital are likely to crop up in this week’s debate on the House budget. And there may be even less appetite in the Senate for shuttering the facility. That may be unfortunate: If an independent analyst finds that patients can be treated as well or better in other hospitals, the state should move quickly to close Taunton. The Legislature should compel such a study and support its recommendations.

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