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Holyoke Notes #3

New hospital, renewed Medicare for all campaign on the way in Holyoke

by David T.

City Council Approves Land Sale for For-Profit Psych Hospital

The Massachusetts Nurses Association has zero pull in Hampden County, if we can take as any indication the enthusiasm with which the Holyoke City Council at it’s March 5th meeting  endorsed the prospect of a for-profit psychiatric hospital here.

The Council voted 12-1 in favor of selling the former site of the Geriatric Authority at 45 Lower Westfield Rd. for $250,000 to B2 Health LLC, a for-profit partnership between regional healthcare giant Baystate Health and national for-profit behavioral health hospital interest US Healthvest. The city estimates it will garner just over $200,000 yearly in property taxes.

The new 120-bed hospital is projected to increase the number of inpatient psychiatric beds in the region by about 30 percent, and include units for youth and geriatric patients. Almost anyone involved in care of folks with acute psychiatric concerns can tell you there are not enough inpatient beds in Western Mass, particularly for youths and older adults. Often statewide bed searches are necessary to find placements for folks in acute crisis, and having to ship out to Worcester or Boston, and away from family and local supports only makes a tough situation tougher.

However, the cynical and conspiracy-minded observer may well wonder whether Baystate is now motivated to move on addressing the regional bed shortage because they are cheesed at their unionized nurses. Negotiations around the last contract for Baystate Franklin nurses, ratified last May after 18 months and 2 strikes, came out pretty well for the union. The union leader, quoted crowing about it here,  happens to work in that hospital’s behavioral health unit, which is slated for closure.

Unlike Baystate Franklin, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield is not unionized, and the safe money is on B2’s margin-sensitive new operation not tolerating any type of worker organizing. At a March 4th meeting of the City Council’s Development and Government Relations Committee, Baystate head of psychiatry Barry Sarvet was pushed by recently-appointed Ward 2 City Councilor Terence Murphy on whether staff at existing regional inpatient psychiatric units, including at Franklin, would be allowed first shot at jobs at the new hospital. His response was telling. “They will be allowed to apply,” he offered, while stating also that they do not expect everyone to make the transition. Wonder who they are gunning for?

Holyoke City Councilors were not swayed by the possibility that they were enabling union busting in their March 5 vote to approve the land sale. Ward 4 City Coucilor Jossie Valentin said she saw the question of B2 Health’s hiring practices as out of bounds. “We cannot vote on the operations of B2. We cannot vote on their hiring process,” she said. A few other councilors who ultimately supported the land sale expressed regret about not being able to support current Baystate workers, and wondered if they might have other points of leverage as the process moves forward.

I guess we’ll see.

* * *

Medicare-for-All Campaign Continues in Holyoke

California-based Medicare for All (M4A) activist and policy analyst Michael Lighty and Western Massaschusetts M4A’s Deborah Levenson visited Holyoke on March 2nd to deliver rousing presentations about the prospects for universal health coverage.

Before a Saturday afternoon crowd of about 30 folks in the community room at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, Lighty discussed that, while federal M4A legislation has been getting a lot of attention recently, significant activity is taking place on the state level as well. He said that current efforts are underway in New York and California to develop “shovel ready” state-level M4A plans in time for the next presidential inauguration. The thinking is, Lighty said, that a Democratic administration will be open to granting waivers—available under the Affordable Care Act—to states that want to use their Medicare and Medicaid dollars toward universal coverage.

Lighty was enthused about the 77 percent approval that state-level M4A received in a series of non-binding referenda in cities and towns around Western Mass. last November. In Holyoke, just over 64 percent of voters voiced support for M4A in a vote that came on the heels of months of canvassing by the Democratic Socialists of America.

Levenson, however, said her impression is there is some daylight between the will of Western Massachusetts voters and the folks in charge of the policy agenda on Beacon Hill. She said it is going to take a heavy lift to get M4A legislation passed. The upshot is Holyokers can expect more canvassers knocking on their doors in coming months.

There is a current Massachusetts M4A bill, whose champions include Hampshire County state Rep. Lindsay Sabodosa and state Sen. Jo Comerford. For his part, state Rep. Aaron Vega, whose district includes Holyoke, has joined a newly formed single-payer legislative caucus. That’s all heartening, but we still have a Republican governor, and, let’s be real, our neck of the woods is not exactly swimming in legislative clout. Nine out of 10 doctors agree, you never know, but don’t hold your breath.

* * *

Holyoke City Council Bingo Returns

Holyoke City Council Bingo started up again this month at Holyoke Hummus Company. It’s good company and good fun. Here’s the event description, ripped verbatim from the Facebook (boo!) event page.

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Join us on the first Tuesday of each month for a live broadcast of the Holyoke City Council. The kitchen will be open so you can grab some dinner and watch local government in action!

Bring your questions about municipal government — we’ll have a speaker from 6 to 6:45; stay tuned for information about who will be joining us! We’ll talk a little about municipal government before we see it in action with a little bingo.

City Council starts at 7 pm and we’ll wind down at 9 pm (though it’s unlikely City Council will be done)


* * *


Via NEPR, here’s a real bummer. “Former Holyoke Community Leader Under Investigation For ‘Questionable Transactions”



Disclaimer: The author is employed in the behavioral health industrial complex for a company that contracts with Baystate, and, in his spare time, is an advocate for M4A.

David T. is the Holyoke Correspondent for The Shoestring.

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