Correction Department denies unsafe conditions at Bridgewater

Says agency spent $1.7m remediating environmental hazards

THE MASSACHUSETTS Department of Correction is disputing the findings in a report that said the agency has refused to address pervasive mold and the potential for asbestos exposure at Bridgewater State Hospital. In fact, Correction Commissioner Carol Mici said, the agency has spent $1.7 million addressing the problems. 

The Disability Law Center, an independent organization with legal authority to monitor the hospital, has called for the closure of Bridgewater State Hospital, which is the state’s secure institution for people with severe mental illness who are incarcerated, civilly committed, or being held pre-trial. The DLC issued a report, which was given to the agency on January 31, detailing extensive environmental hazards. 

On Wednesday, Mici wrote a seven-page letter to Tatum Pritchard, the interim director of the Disability Law Center, detailing DOC’s response. “The DOC carefully reviewed the report and disagrees with DLC’s allegations that the condition of the physical plant is unsafe, that DOC’s mold remediation has been deficient, and that care of Persons Served is contrary to state law,” Mici wrote. 

As CommonWealth previously reported, the DLC report said  people living or working at the hospital have for years complained of symptoms consistent with exposure to poor quality air. In 2019, an expert hired by the Disability Law Center found mold growing throughout the facility. The Department of Correction said it took remedial action, but follow-up testing in 2021 found many of the same, or worse, conditions. There was visible mold growth in many inspected areas, mold growing within the HVAC systems, and dampness and a mold odor in the basements.  

Separately, the report found that Wellpath – the contractor hired by the state to provide clinical services – was using restraints, seclusion, and particularly the forced use of medication in circumstances that were not sanctioned by state regulations. 

The DOC wrote in its response that Bridgewater State Hospital was recently reaccredited by a Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and that review considered issues related to the physical facility. 

“The DOC is committed to maintaining BSH’s physical plant and has taken significant actions to address the safety challenges that can arise in an older facility such as BSH,” Mici wrote. “Because of these efforts, and in spite of its age, BSH remains a safe and healthy environment for employees, visitors, and Persons Served.” 

Mici wrote that the DOC has spent $1.7 million in recent years remediating mold and asbestos and making other facility improvements, in response to earlier reports by the Disability Law Center. As recently as 2021, DOC repaired roofs, water leaks, heating controls, and pipes; purchased new air conditioning units; and replaced filters and belts on air handlers. This month, in response to the DLC report, it approved spending another $88,000 for air quality testing and mold and asbestos remediation. 

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The report also provided new data about the use of restraints and seclusion, noting that both have dropped significantly since new regulations and new staff were put in place in 2015. In 2015, people at Bridgewater spent nearly 40,000 hours in seclusion; in 2021, they spent 1,220 hours. In 2015, people spent over 700 hours in restraints, compared to 360 hours in 2021. 

The DOC also said the Disability Law Center’s finding that Bridgewater State Hospital should be closed or transferred to the authority of the Department of Mental Health is a policy conclusion, not an oversight one, and constitutes advocacy that falls “somewhere beyond or at least at the very outer limits of DLC’s statutory responsibilities.”