SUBSCRIBE

Lowell psychiatric hospital with a history of citations will close

By Globe Staff 

Arbour Health System, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital company, plans to permanently close Lowell Treatment Center, a hospital with a history of citations for providing poor care.

This is the second Arbour hospital that has been shut down in six months. The state Department of Mental Health closed the troubled Westwood Lodge psychiatric facility in August, citing “critical safety issues’’ and following years of quality lapses and inadequate staffing.

Advertisement

This time, the state said it did not order the closure. Instead, Arbour’s decision to shutter Lowell “was made after a comprehensive review of multiple factors,’’ including the availability of inpatient beds and outpatient programs in the state and the amount of money required to modernize the hospital, executive director Shawn Daugherty said in a written statement.

But employees said there was another factor: Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership, a company that oversees mental health benefits for state Medicaid enrollees, ended its contract with Lowell. The state confirmed in a statement that it had severed the relationship “due to quality concerns.’’

The hospital will close Friday, and the patients — who numbered 11 as of Monday — are being transferred to other hospitals. Patients who attend outpatient therapy programs at the hospital also must find other treatment facilities.

A Globe review last June found that the seven psychiatric hospitals then owned by Arbour had repeatedly and sometimes egregiously shortchanged patient care while reaping robust profits. Over the past several years, state and federal officials have found safety lapses time and time again and issued warnings or suspended admissions, only to have the hospitals reopen and repeat the pattern.

Arbour has long defended its record, saying it cares for some of the state’s most challenging patients, many of whom are turned away by other hospitals. It is owned by Universal Health Services, the biggest psychiatric hospital company in the country. Universal is facing fraud investigations in numerous states.

Advertisement

In the past year, state and federal inspectors found serious problems at Lowell, which has 41 beds.

In August, the federal government said it planned to fine Lowell $207,000 for failing to follow through on promises to correct workplace safety violations — an accusation the hospital disputed.

Between December 2016 and April 2017, at least three employees were seriously injured by patients, including a nursing supervisor who suffered a concussion and a case manager who was repeatedly punched and scratched, requiring treatment for a scratched cornea and a head injury, the federal government said.

Federal Medicare inspectors also criticized the hospital and threatened to cut off funding from the insurance program for the elderly. In documents obtained by the Globe, inspectors described an incident in which patients grabbed ceiling tiles and hit one another, staff, and police officers with them. Two patients said staff were aware that patients had removed the tiles in the past.

In September, the state mental health department suspended admission to Lowell for a month because of “serious issues involving patient safety.’’ The state also found that the facility was not clean or well organized.


Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.