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Baystate Health opening behavioral health hospital in Holyoke with for-profit partner

A photo from earlier this year of Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts, under construction.
Baystate Health
A photo from earlier this year of Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts, under construction.

A new behavioral health hospital is opening in Holyoke next week, although it won’t start taking patients in crisis for a few more months.

Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital is a joint venture of Baystate Health and the for-profit company Lifepoint, which owns many other mental health hospitals.

Valley Springs CEO Roy Sasenaraine said they’ll start with 30 patients who are already in a state-run long-term facility. The hospital plans to eventually add 120 more beds, including for acute psychiatric care, starting in the fall.

While previous mental health hospitals in western Massachusetts have closed after financial challenges, Sasenaraine said Valley Springs will save money on overhead.

“One of the things as part of a joint venture you can do, you can leverage economies of scale,” he said, “things like finance or billing departments.”

Providence Hospital in Holyoke cited a psychiatrist shortage as one reason for its closing last year, but Sasenaraine said Valley Springs is actively recruiting new doctors to meet the region’s considerable need.

“While we don't have every single body for psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners lined up,” he said, “we're actually in good shape at this point as we're moving towards those dates of opening the rest of the hospital.”

Valley Springs will be taking over psychiatric beds that are closing at other Baystate facilities, including Baystate Noble and Baystate Wing. Baystate Franklin in Greenfield will be keeping its psychiatric unit.

Sasenaraine said the new building was designed with mental health care in mind, including plenty of light as well as outdoor and indoor recreation space.

David Schildmeier with the Massachusetts Nurses Union said his group is pleased at any effort to open new psychiatric beds, following recent closings. But the union is wary of the motives behind a non-unionized company like Lifepoint.

“The connection isn't to the community,” he said. “The connection is to making a profit and to investors and not to the clients or the region that they're serving.”

While Schildmeier said he doesn’t know much about Lifepoint’s specific practices, he said for-profit health care companies in general have a record of skimping on staff, cutting back on services and prioritizing higher-income patients.

“We'll give them benefit of the doubt, but those are things we'll be looking at and communicating with officials as necessary to make sure that people get the care that they need,” he said.

Sasenaraine said the company is committed to patient care and he hopes the skeptics give them a chance.

Disclosure: Baystate Health is an underwriter of NEPM. The newsroom operates independently.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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