Tour With Us: Mass. Unveils $302M State Psychiatric Hospital

The future "village green" at the new Massachusetts state psychiatric hospital (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

The future "village green" at the new Massachusetts state psychiatric hospital (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

Imagine grass where there’s dirt in the picture above, and a burbling fountain. This will be the “village green,” and from here you can walk inside to a “downtown” area with a bank, a cafe, a general store, a library and multiple gyms. Or you can go “home,” to your own private space with your own private bathroom.

I know I sound like a real estate agent, but let me clarify: When I say “you,” I mean an inpatient whose mental illness is so severe and persistent that you’re being treated at a state psychiatric institution.

Introducing the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, on the drawing board for nearly a decade and unveiled for its first media tour on Friday. Its $302 million price tag, officials say, is the highest ever for a state building project that is not a road.

In the public mind, state hospitals are foreboding, crumbling, frighteningly dysfunctional places — especially here in a state where some were built in the 19th century. But what officials presented Friday was a “state of the art” facility from its light-flooded corridors to its green materials to its core principle that its central function is to help people recover.

“This facility is unique not only to Massachusetts but we think will set the standards for inpatient continued care and rehabilitation across the nation,” said Marcia Fowler, the state mental health commissioner.

In a state mental health system eternally plagued by a shortage of services, the new building only consolidates 320 beds rather than adding new ones; and the fact that Taunton State Hospital is to be closed as part of that consolidation has drawn some protests. But just for now, let’s put controversy aside and simply take a look around.

Charles Willse, manager of the project for the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management, showed the way through the “downtown,” where patients will be able to do much of what they might do in any downtown, from buying a latte to checking the Internet on a library computer. (And yes, there will be wireless, too.)

And here is a glimpse of a patient’s room. The tour included descriptions of the special measures taken to keep patients safe — that is, prevent suicides — from hooks engineered to collapse under heavy weight to light switches designed to block an attempt at self-electrocution.

The hospital space flows much as the space does in a typical life outside, from private space in a patient’s room, to a small unit, to a “neighborhood,” to the broad interaction of downtown.

“The intent is to create as much autonomy as we possibly can, to engage the patient in their recovery in a way that is not controlling,” said Anthony Riccitelli, the hospital’s chief of operations.

Each wing  has a kitchen where patients will be able to prepare food, both to suit their own tastes better and to practice a “life skill.” They will also have access to courtyards with features ranging from a basketball court to a labyrinth for meditative walking.

Part of the “state of the art” is technology that will allow witnesses to testify remotely at commitment or guardianship hearings in a room set aside as judge’s chambers; widespread wireless; and assorted features that included extensive input from patients, including the stained glass windows in the non-denominational chapel (right).

It is hoped, Commissioner Fowler said, that the new hospital’s environment will prove so therapeutic that it will shorten the time that patients need to stay.

The building stands as testimony to the recognition, she said, “that persons with mental illness deserve a beautiful facility that is designed with the intention of enhancing healing, facilitating recovery from mental illness and re-integration into the community in a timely fashion. It recognizes that people with mental illness deserve the same high-level quality of facilities, of staffing, of treatment, that other individuals in the Commonwealth have.”

What makes the building unique, Charles Willse said, is that “the design really emulates the process of people going through the mental health recovery process.” And “Also, a lot of states haven’t really invested in this type of facility. So this is definitely one of the cutting-edge buildings in the entire country right now.”

The new hospital is slated to begin housing patients at the end of this summer. Readers, reactions? Thoughts? Anything else you’d particularly like to know about the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital?

Correction: Because of an error in state materials, this post originally gave an incorrect figure for the price of the hospital. The correct price is $302 million.

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  • crowneagle

    I’m hoping that my sister has the opportunity to go into this facility. It’s not because I think that it is a great facility. It’s that it’s the streets or worse still, Tewksbury Hospital. The problem is my sister has had Schizophrenia for 40 years and 40 years of psychotropic medications has left her with early dementia as well as her mental illness. The new hospital is great but what’s the plan for caring for older mental health patients They are closing all the mental health hospitals and there doesn’t seem to be IMHO anything in place to take care of a burgeoning older client population. I don’t think that mixing them in with nursing home patients is the answer. Many of these patients are wandering or in the cities even worse things can happen. There’s a number of clients that no longer fit the model of the typical halfway house but are still with it enough to not be good candidates for nursing home care. There doesn’t seem to be many options for the void being created.

  • Emma Goldman

    What a waste of taxpayer money!  They should be funding non-coercive services in the community instead of building new institutions. 

    • Tinnusad

       Coercive Services? Are you kidding me? Honey, this isn’t the age of Spinning Chairs, Ice Baths, Labotomies or Padded rooms. There is a lot more going on in terms of Treatment within the walls of State Hospitals than most lay people would understand.

  • Anne44wells

    302  million while we have 10% plus unemployed. No wonder the US is so indebt. Spending this kind of money on a facility is the true insanity

  • guest

    So it’s a new Kirkbride. They worked so well right?

  • guest

    The new hospital is beautiful that is a fact. Here is another fact- There is not one Community First program in existance that compares to the luxury that will be provided to the patients at the new hospital. As a DMH worker, I can tell you first hand that many times as we start to prepare a patient for discharge into the community they start to exhibit old negative behaviors. This is usually becasue they do not want to leave the facility they have become comfortable and safe in.Many times,they go to visit the half way house that is planned for their discharge and they return saying that they “don’t like it there”.
     The Commissioner said the it is hoped that the environment in the new hospital will be so theraputic that it will shorten the length of stay for the patients. It is my opinion based on many years of serving this population that “hope” is the key word in her sentence. I just do not understand why the Department just does not step up to the plate and admit that at the time of the original study the plan was to keep Taunton State OPEN and now they have made a decision to go against that plan and leave the southeast area WITHOUT the services that have been provided  well by Taunton State.
     Honesty would serve everyone well.

  • Tom

    Good timing DMH. Gotta show the new facility right after the rally to keep Taunton open. We know your games.  Let me tell you, it may be a new facility, but it’ll be the same old treatment, with the same old workers.  You can call it the recovery center, but the fact is it’ll be filled with pt’s who are chronically ill and may never recover from the serious illnesses.  That’s reality, as unpleasant as it may be. Plus it’s in Worcester, which is an armpit of a city.  305m could have been used in many other ways.  This facility is not centrally located, Boston is central, not Worcester which is far away from SE area where many patients are from too far from home for many, if you care. Although it seems you don’t care if patients are close to home since you have patients from different areas in all your facilities.  This new facility is a waste of money.  Since you are all for community first, why would you build a new inpatient facility.  You are all a bunch of hypocrites.  You don’t care about the people you serve.  Your private vendors pay people slave wages, and the care in the community stinks because of that.  You get what you pay for you know.  Not once have you ever admitted the mistakes you’ve made and continue to make.  All you can do is blow smoke…

    • NoChakras

      I couldn’t agree with you more. While I believe that the environment at the new DMH facility would do much to further the “Humanization” of psychiatric treatment’s physical face for both patients and staff, your point is valid. As a former patient at the now defunct Metropolitan State Hospital, I feel able to speak on that with the authority born of experience. Although “Met State” was old and wobbly, there were some fine people who’s skill and compassion helped me to get out and stay out of the system for 20 years now. There were also a few…well, you know. It’s always the people that staff a mental health facility that make the difference concerning a patient’s progress and/or recidivism. I would rather monies be devoted to training,better pay and benefits for staff at all levels, ( thereby attracting the most talented and gifted practitioners of the psychiatric arts), also to broaden the treatment spectrum. Maybe even Research. Just sayin’.