By Jon Bishop
DEVENS — The shortage of Central Massachusetts mental-health treatment options might soon get a shot in the arm.
Dr. Michael Krupa, CEO of Health Partners New England, a Winchester-based psychiatric services management organization, met with Devens residents Wednesday night to outline his proposed New England Recovery Center, a private 86- to 110-bed for-profit facility that would treat both psychiatric and substance-abuse patients.
The location, 85 Patton Road, is 7.6 acres in size, and the proposed building would be about 84,000 square feet, with two floors. It would employ about 170 to 200 people.
Krupa, a clinical psychologist by training, said that there would be one six-bed psychiatric intensive care unit, four units of 20 to 26 beds, and specialty units that could — once they get clinical partners — treat eating disorders, substance abuse, child and adolescent issues, and geriatrics.
“There’s a very high need for child and adolescent services,” Krupa said. “There are no other beds in Central Massachusetts.”
In general, Central Massachusetts is under-bedded by about 177, Krupa said. For example, about 2,200 patients from the UMass Memorial Medical Center system travel more than an hour because of the lack of beds. Psychology and psychiatry are tough divisions of medicine, he said.
Krupa said he is only two months into the letter-of-intent filing process for the facility and that ultimately, the proposal would have to be approved by the Devens Enterprise Commission. Public hearings will be held, but have yet to be scheduled, he added.
“It’s been very tough to get finances,” he said.
But that is changing.
The design, though not yet finished, will likely be attractive and welcoming, both for patients and staff, Krupa said.
“It matters to build things the right way,” he said. “You want it to be as elegant as possible.”
The small number of Devens residents and others in attendance were mostly pleased.
“I’m very excited about this, for the reasons he mentioned,” said Dr. Kent Boynton of Harvard, who has a Ph.D in social welfare. “Running a unit, we were getting referrals from this area constantly.”
Tom Kinch, a Devens resident, said the presentation helped him understand more about the project.
“I really appreciate it,” he said.
But Eric Knapp, who is with the Devens golf course, said he was concerned with people leaving the facility.
Boynton, as did Krupa, reminded him that the units would be locked.
Many officials and people in the mental-health field, when contacted about the proposal, praised the idea.
“I think it’s great there’s a proposal to address the need for psychiatric beds,” said state Sen. Jen Flanagan. “It’s a resource that’s desperately needed in our region,” adding that it’s one of those issues we need to deal with on Beacon Hill.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge said that “a week doesn’t go by where my office” isn’t seeing requests for help for a substance-abuse problem or a mental-health challenge.”
“This is a facility that would fill a gap,” he said. “I support the project.”
Hilary Curtis of Advocates, Inc., a human-services organization, agreed.
“It’s a very welcome addition for the field,” she said. “There’s never enough beds — especially in the wintertime. I look forward to any collaboration.”
And Laurie Martinelli, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts, said that “100 new beds is good.”
“There’s a severe shortage of psychiatric beds in the state,” she said.
According to E. Fuller Torrey, whose book Out of the Shadows: Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis that PBS cited in a Frontline report, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients in the nation’s public hospitals. By 1994, there were 71,619. This was due to de-institutionalization.
Krupa, who spoke about this in his presentation, said that, though there were many beds in the ’50s, people tended to be locked away, never to be seen again. But once de-institutionalization happened, many people believed that the country went too far in the other direction.
He said that, because people realize the need for psychiatric treatment, everything is “hitting an equilibrium.”
Massachusetts is also a leader in getting people health insurance. About 99 percent of its population is insured, and there is virtually full coverage for inpatient care, he said.