Baker seeks to privatize some mental health services

SPRINGFIELD — The MBTA isn’t the only place where state officials are looking to privatize government services.

A day after Governor Charlie Baker’s MBTA task force gathered in Boston to recommend suspending a law that imposes conditions before privatization can take place, administration officials testified at a legislative panel about privatizing mental health services.

The plan seeks to save $4.7 million on the treatment of mental illness, but the Baker administration would have to convince the state auditor that privatizing emergency mental health services in southeastern Massachusetts would save money without diminishing services.

“We believe this will have no impact on client services. The staff who have worked in those emergency service programs are dedicated professionals,” interim Commissioner of Mental Health Joan Mikula told members of the House and Senate ways and means committees.


The House committee’s budget would facilitate the Baker administration’s privatization plans, according to the Department of Mental Health. But state Representative Carole Fiola, a Fall River Democrat, filed an amendment with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from across the state that would require the department to maintain state-operated emergency services in the southeast.

In most of the state, mental health emergency services are handled by the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership, which is managed by Mass
Health, the Department of Mental Health said. The southeast is the only region where the department operates emergency mental health services, with four programs in five locations.

A 2013 guide to services offered by the department shows emergency services on Cape Cod, the South Coast, and Brockton.

If the state follows through on privatization, Mikula said, the department would follow the current procedures for privatization of state services.

It could become the Baker administration’s first attempt to move a privatization plan through the process mandated by the Pacheco law, a controversial measure that requires government to show savings and no decline in service before privatizing services.


Viewed by some as an obstacle to attempts at improving efficiency through privatization, the law over the years has been regularly subjected to efforts to repeal it or reduce its scope.

Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, prefers to call the law the “taxpayer protection act,” and said it is a safeguard against contracts that diminish service or increase government spending.

“The law works,” Pacheco said. “You want to make sure there is a process.”