It seems all big plans involving the South End lately must come out of the blue.
That’s what happened this week as the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) moved fast and quietly to work up a plan announced on Monday that would have them buying the Newton Pavilion at 88 E. Newton St. for $200 million and moving operations from the Shattuck Hospital in JP there by 2021. The Shattuck, in turn, would close and an RFP would go out seeking public health uses, purportedly something that would also help the South End.
It was a shocking turn of events, and one that only began to leak to stakeholders in the neighborhood on Sunday night and Monday morning – as the Shattuck has been a major piece of conversation in the South End regarding transforming it into a recovery campus.
“The Lemuel Shattuck Hospital provides medical and psychiatric treatment to some of the state’s most vulnerable, underserved patients, and the administration is pursuing relocation to Newton Pavilion in 2021 to ensure continuity of high-quality health care for patients in need,” read a statement released Monday afternoon by a spokesperson. “The administration has carefully weighed many options and communicated with stakeholders about renovation needs, and has selected the Newton Pavilion as the best option for patients that will also save taxpayers nearly $200 million. The Commonwealth is committed to engaging in a comprehensive planning process to identify future uses of the Jamaica Plain campus, and will work with staff over the next three years to ensure a smooth transition.”
The Newton Pavilion is owned by Boston Medical Center, but Leggat McCall has a purchase and sale in effect at the moment.
Bob Biggio of Boston Medical Center said Leggat McCall has been marketing the building to office users for the past year or more, but unsuccessfully. With BMC scheduled to be out by Oct. 1, Leggat and the state quickly began to put together the deal, which would have the state assuming Leggat’s Purchase & Sales agreement with BMC.
“It was kept close to the vest and it did happen really fast,” Biggio told the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association on Tuesday, a group that meets in the Newton Pavilion. “They did move fast because they did not want to miss the opportunity to save millions.”
HHS indicated that the Shattuck is a 260-bed, state-operated hospital that provides medical and psychiatric treatment to a diverse patient population. It is operating by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) with the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Department of Correction (DOC) and serves as a critical safety net hospital for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable and underserved patients.
The move to the Newton Pavilion would include:
- 117 inpatient medical/surgical beds (operated by DPH)
- 28 medical/surgical beds dedicated to DOC patients
- 115 inpatient psychiatric beds (operated by DMH)
- and about 700 employees.
What would not be moved would be the social services that are offered at Shattuck, including residential treatment programs, outpatient psychiatric services, a methadone clinic and the Pine Street Inn shelter that is there. Those services would stay put in that area.
A key factor in the decision was a recent cost-analysis for the facility done last summer. The last renovation on the property – located inside Franklin Park – was in 1954. In the end, the opportunity to move to the Newton Pavilion was much more cost effective.
HHS indicated that the cost of purchase, renovation and relocation would be $200 million, while renovating the existing Shattuck or building a new facility there would cost between $400 million to $500 million.
On a neighborhood level, most were puzzled by the news. It was uncertain how it might turn out, with most saying it could bloom into flowers of relief, or turn into an added pile of dung.
South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox said it was quite a shock for him when he heard, especially since he has been one leading the charge of making the Shattuck a Recovery Campus.
One of the most important questions for him, he said, was whether or not it would affect the Recovery Campus on Long Island announced in surprising fashion last January during Mayor Martin Walsh’s inauguration speech.
Walsh did not respond to a request for comment on the plan by HHS, but instead said the state would be the best to comment on the matter.
Fox said it does make the situation more complicated in terms of working on the opiate epidemic and the levels of human services offerings located in the South End. However, he also said it could be a chance to lighten the load.
“I don’t know how this plays out just yet, but I do know that the situation in the South End has gotten a lot more complicated,” he said. “There are a bunch of questions we have about whether the state is willing to make concessions…on moving things that don’t have to be here. The fact is we’re overloaded with services. Everyone knows that. One such thing that could move is one of the methadone clinics. We know the state is limited on that because those clinics are private, but the state does have a small hammer to wield at some time.”
Fox said there will likely be a very short presentation at the South End Forum by HHS on March 6. Also, a full presentation will be made on March 20 at the Opiate Working Group.
At WSANA on Tuesday, President George Stergios said he felt like it could be a very good thing for the neighborhood.
“It’s meant to be great for the neighborhood,” he said. “The state is seemingly thinking of the neighborhood. What it turns out to be later, we’ll see…As I understand it, the City doesn’t see this as a replacement for re-building the Long Island Bridge. If the City wants a Recovery Campus on Long Island, and the state wants one at Shattuck, maybe we get one or both.”
Fox said all indications to him were that the HHS wanted to do something at Shattuck that would help the South End, which could be some sort of opiate recovery campus or innovation research center. In any case, it must be a facility that serves a pressing public health need, which is required by law. The Shattuck cannot be sold for residential or commercial development.
HHS said they would be engaging in a full, 12-month planning process about what the Shattuck should become. The planning process will provide interested stakeholders, neighborhood groups, members of the public and non-profit provider programs with an opportunity to provide input and comment on the potential uses of the campus.
Meanwhile, the state will be hold information sessions about the relocation in the South End and JP later this month.