State Seeks New Mental-Health Provider for Lowell Facility

Source: Lowell Sun

By Rick Sobey

LOWELL — It was yet another major setback for mental-health treatment in the region.

After the Lowell Treatment Center on Varnum Avenue permanently shut down last month, local legislators reached out to the state about restoring Lowell-based mental-health options with the same number of inpatient beds.

It appears the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services has listened to the legislators’ plea.

In a letter the Lowell delegation received last week, EOHHS Secretary Marylou Sudders wrote that the state intends to seek a new mental-health provider at the Lowell location.

“EOHHS is committed to ensuring access to the full continuum of mental health services, including inpatient beds, for Massachusetts residents,” she wrote in the letter.

“DMH (Department of Mental Health) intends to issue a new procurement seeking a provider(s) to operate mental health services at the location with preference for a provider of inpatient services,” Sudders added in the letter.

The building is designed for inpatient services, and DMH is confident it will find a qualified provider through the procurement process, according to a DMH spokesperson.

DMH anticipates that an RFR (Request for Response) will be posted by the end of this week. The contract would be effective July 1.

The 41-bed Lowell Treatment Center, a regional provider of mental-health services, closed last month.

The decision to close the Varnum Avenue campus, operated by Arbour Health Systems, came after the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership ended its contract with the center “due to quality concerns,” according to a MassHealth spokesperson.

In addition, the health partnership didn’t renew its contract because of actions taken by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Mental Health. Last year, the Department of Mental Health found “serious issues involving patient safety and the cleanliness and organization of the facility,” the agency said. The agency then halted new admissions at that time.

Shawn Daugherty, executive director of the Lowell Treatment Center, said the center decided to shut down after completing a “comprehensive review of multiple factors” — including the availability of inpatient beds and outpatient programs at other state behavioral-health facilities. The center, located in the Solomon Mental Health building near Lowell General Hospital, would have also needed upgrades in the future, Daugherty added.

In the Lowell delegation’s letter to the state on Feb. 12, they wrote about their “serious reservations that Lowellians with mental-health needs can easily access the care they need in Methuen, Newburyport, or other Merrimack Valley hospitals.”

“With an increased awareness of the high societal costs of ignoring mental-health issues, forcing patients and their families to travel greater distances to receive medical attention seems misguided,” wrote Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Rep. Tom Golden, Rep. Dave Nangle and Rep. Rady Mom.

“We understand that concerns about the safety and well-being of Lowell Treatment Center patients necessitated its closing, but we look forward to hearing back from you about EOHHS’s plans to restore Lowell-based mental-health options with the same number of inpatient beds,” they added.