Citizens for Holyoke has launched its first campaign: NO ON YALE. This is a formal opposition to the establishment of a 16 bed medical treatment facility at 11 Yale Street and any other medical facilities in Holyoke that will negatively impact the well-being of the community.
AN ESCALATING RISK FACING HOLYOKE: THE OPIOID CRISIS
The opioid crisis has clearly impacted all walks of life and our city and families are not exempt. Big pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson pushed an addictive product into our communities as recently reported in an article in The Guardian newspaper, with predictable results. Private corporations, such as Purdue Pharma, as reported in an article in Pacific Standard magazine, has revealed in “an ongoing case with the states of Massachusetts and New York, the extent to which the Sacklers, the wealthy family that owns Purdue, were personally involved in plans to market and profit from OxyContin.” Now we must recognize the magnitude of this crisis and specifically the unanticipated consequences that our state and federal government may cause.
- Massachusetts families lost 1913 loved ones in 2017 to the opioid crisis
- 321 people who died from opioid overdose in Massachusetts had a legal opioid prescription from a doctor
- In 2017 there were 28.2 deaths per 100,000 persons in Massachusetts, which is twofold higher than the national rate
- Greatest increases in deaths involved synthetic opioids
- Massachusetts hit harder than many other states
CONSEQUENCES FOR HOLYOKE
The federal and state government will spend tens of billions of dollars over the next decade dealing with the opioid crisis. Many good and meaningful programs have been and will be implemented to address this existential health crisis. As this massive expenditure is deployed, we must be vigilant and protect our community from the direct and unanticipated consequences of policies created outside our community and imposed upon us.
MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION: A HEALTH SERVICE ORGANIZATION
It is with great concern that we have learned about Mental Health Association’s (MHA) planned 16 bed medical treatment facility (GRIT) that will be located in a residential neighborhood at 11 Yale Street. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health intends to fund 26 such facilities under this one grant in the Commonwealth. A comparison of the proposed sites reveals that the 11 Yale Street location is the only one zoned Residential-1 and has been used exclusively as a single-family home since it was built in 1919. The other proposed sites for the other 25 medical treatment facilities are all in multi-family/mixed use zones.
The patients of the proposed medical treatment facility at 11 Yale Street will have co-occurring, moderate to severe addiction and mental illness. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in order to be admitted to this 16 bed medical treatment facility, patients must have within the previous 3 months experienced one of the following events:
- An inpatient psychiatric hospitalization
- At least two emergency department and/or emergency service personnel visits
- Unsuccessful engagement and/or inability to succeed in other community-based services based on psychosocial or clinical complexity related to substance use and/or mental health disorders
COMPASSIONATE CARE AND A SUSTAINABLE CITY
It is our view that the need to provide medical services to those with addiction and co-occurring mental illness is absolutely essential. This care should be provided with respect to the following principles:
Not Threaten the Viability of a Community:
- As Holyoke is striving to make critical investments in education and other services, its number one taxpayer, the Holyoke Mall, is under threat from dominant online business models such as Amazon’s and a Time article states that 1 out of 4 malls will close by 2022. Consequently, the Holyoke Mall’s future tax payments to the city are uncertain.
- To add to this revenue risk, allowing for non-profit, non-income generating, high-service expense medical facilities, to locate “at will” within our highest property tax generating neighborhoods will further imperil a critical revenue stream to the city. A study performed by researchers at Longwood University and published in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate found that “a neighboring treatment center is associated with an 8% reduction in nearby home prices, and that this discount is magnified for treatment centers that specifically treat opiate addiction (as much as 17%).”
To not consider the combination of these two risks, especially as we are contemplating a substantial increase in debt to build new schools, is negligent.
Adherence with local zoning laws: Addiction and mental illness are diseases that require medical treatment. To characterize this treatment as education in order to supercede the local zoning laws, as is being attempted by Mental Health Association, is both disingenuous and simply inaccurate. As stated in the Massachusetts law, commonly called the Dover Amendment, education must be the “primary or dominant purpose.” It is clear in the Department of Public Health’s Grant application, under which MHA has received funding, that the primary and dominant purpose is to provide healthcare services. It is ironic that the Dover Amendment was initially supported by Harvard University so that it could build larger structures in Cambridge, to the detriment of the local community. The Dover Amendment is now being used to override local zoning across the Commonwealth, often to the benefit of real estate developers, and to the detriment of the local communities. The Dover Amendment must be overturned.
Equity of responsibility: There must be a fair distribution of services throughout the Commonwealth. State policy makers are pushing these medical treatment facilities into Gateway communities like Holyoke, the very communities which can least afford to take on this responsibility.
No “For Profit” incentive or affiliations. Given the enormous sums of money that will be poured into medical treatment for the opioid crisis over the coming decade, it is imperative that no profit motives exist that will reduce the capacity for treatment and cause additional harm to the communities that need served. Providers should have no for profit affiliates and should meet the highest level of transparency and disclosure if they are to be allowed to serve.
A CALL TO ACTION
Holyoke has done, and will continue to do, its fair share with humility and compassion. We are deeply proud of our diverse, striving community, rooted in the traditions of industriousness, fairness and integrity. Now is the time to properly organize to defeat the 11 Yale Street project. Please contact our mayor, our city councilors, our state representative and our Massachusetts state senator to express your views.