State cabinet officials from the Department of Health and Human Services said that there was no way that the current Shattuck Hospital site in Jamaica Plain would be turned over to green, open space – something that the powerful Emerald Necklace Conservancy has been calling for lately.
At a meeting of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) on Tuesday, Lauren Peters – assistant secretary for Health and Human Services – said that call for open space on the Shattuck is not going to be successful.
When asked by WSANA Vice President Bob Minnocci if they would be successful, Peters unequivocally said, “No.”
“I will say that the Emerald Necklace Conservancy have been advocating for the Commonwealth to restore the Shattuck 13-acres back to the City so it can become park space,” she said. “This is a push from a subset around the table. It’s a small subset that would like to see it restored to park space. I don’t see how that could happen when we have a real epidemic on our hands and needs have to be met. It’s a once in a lifetime chance the Commonwealth has this land to develop and the City has Long Island. We need to put these together to meet the needs of general healthcare and the opioid epidemic.”
She said most of those in the planning process and around the table of those appointed to study uses for the current Shattuck have universally agreed that health and recovery uses should be targeted.
The Conservancy made its call in a letter at the end of April for the Shattuck to be returned to open space, and the state to investigate using the Arborway MBTA Yard in JP for the recovery uses. They had become upset because an original plan for 200,000 square feet of uses had now become 600,000 square feet.
Their position upset many in the South End, who have been promised some re-positioning of existing human services to the Shattuck site in exchange for accepting the hospital at the Newton Pavilion in the South End.
With the Conservancy’s call, and their powerful allies, some in the South End had been concerned they could get another new hospital and no relief.
Peters said that isn’t the case.
“We know the South End is disproportionately impacted by services,” she said. “We knew it was important for the South End to have a voice at the table and represent the interests of the South End.”
She said they are even exploring expanding existing Methadone programs at Shattuck to help ease the burden of such services that exist in the WSANA area.
“We are exploring options,” she said. “Methadone is very challenging because it is very highly regulated by the federal government. We are looking at expanding what exists in JP. I’m not going to guarantee that, but we are exploring that.”
Beyond that, many in the WSANA were concerned about the procedures that will be used to give some mental health patients passes to explore the community. With what neighbors said is an “open air drug market” one block from the Newton Pavilion, many felt it would be inappropriate to allow them to go out.
“The big concern is you have this population in an open air drug market and the dealers are just going to see new prey,” said Andy Brand. “That is bad for the patients and for the neighborhood.”
State officials said there is a segment of their mental health patients that would be allowed passes outside. It was estimated that 25 percent of the 115 mental health patients would be getting such passes.
However, Jackie Lachapelle, chief operating officer of the Department of Mental Health at the Shattuck (also a resident of Concord Square in the South End), said the visits are supervised and carefully constructed.
“We have the luxury of having long-term stays and we get to know our patients,” she said. “We get to know them and set up really clear discharge plans. Our campus police know our patients. They have pictures of them. They know that they need to come back to the hospital and will tell them to. We also know who isn’t ready for passes. We monitor the passes. They are events. It’s not to go out and check out the community. It’s very structured.”
Another issue brought up by neighbors Cinda Stoner and Helaine Simmonds was the smoking policy. Because Shattuck would be state property, there wouldn’t be smoking allowed on the premises.
Stoner said it would be a problem, as it was several years ago when Boston University Medical Center and Boston Medical Center became smoke-free campuses. Effectively, it turned the streets around the facilities into smoking areas.
“As a result of those policies, our streets and communities were littered with cigarette butts, second-hand smoke, cigarette packs,” she said. “If they can’t smoke on state properties, you are designating our streets as the smoking areas.”
That was a conundrum because state officials there said they didn’t have the ability to overturn such a policy. It was something they all agreed to look into and find out a solution before the new hospital opens in 2022.
•In other WSANA news, several people were affected by an 11-hour scheduled electrical outage recently, as well as some unplanned outages, too. The situation has been the status quo for several years in the South End as spotty electrical service seems to have continued instead of improved.
Minnocci said he experienced the planned outage about two weeks ago on a Saturday and felt it was just outrageous. Other outages have affected his work, and the work of those who increasingly work from home.
The matter is going to be discussed in depth with EverSource representatives at the June 4 South End Forum, 6 p.m., in the South End Library.