With the news that the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital will be closing by 2021 and its operations moving to the South End, the Gazette spoke with local elected officials and residents to get their take on the situation.
The Shattuck Hospital is located at 170 Morton St., next to Franklin Park. It is a multi-service state hospital aimed at serving lower-income or institutional patients. According to the Gazette archives, Lemuel Shattuck, the hospital’s namesake, was known for developing the original plan that led to the establishment of the first Board of Health in Massachusetts. It opened as a 650-bed teaching hospital in 1954, and the pilot correctional unit opened in 1976 after U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed inmates access to a community standard of care. In 1986, the Shattuck had the first dedicated HIV inpatient unit in New England, and continues to specialize in HIV/AIDS treatment.
After the Shattuck Hospital closes, state law requires that the land is used for public health purposes. But legislation could potentially change that. The homeless shelter and other services will remain on the Shattuck campus.
Local Rep. Liz Malia, who is chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said she was “not that surprised” by the decision, as the hospital building is deteriorating and is in need of constant upkeep.
“They do truly need a new facility. That old building is heavily used,” she said.
Malia added later that the move is “an answer to a problem that was sneaking up on us.”
She said she did not know enough about the details to know what the effects will be of the transfer, but said that it wasn’t fiscal feasible to renovate the building while asking patients to leave the building during construction.
“It costs a lot less to move to another facility,” said Malia.
As to for future uses of the land, she said there has been talk about potential housing for those exiting detox programs. Asked about returning the land to Franklin Park, Malia said it’s “too early to entertain that idea.”
One person already entertaining that idea is longtime Jamaica Plain resident Richard Heath and founder of the Franklin Park Coalition.
“This might be an a opportunity for Franklin Park to reclaim some of the 13 acres deeded over to the state circa 1952 for the hospital,” he said in an email to the Gazette.
Heath said with the hospital building most likely being razed, the remaining shelter and other programs could be housed in newer, smaller buildings. He went on to say that, “legislation would be required to transfer land from state to city; always time consuming. However, it may be possible for the state to give the parks department a good sized easement for the reconstruction of pathways up to and around Rock Morton, with its grand views of Scarborough Pond.”
“Call me naïve but this seems like a win for everyone,” said Heath.
Local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said in a statement, “The good news here is that the Department of Public Health made this announcement multiple years in advance of the move. We should use this time to ensure there is a robust community process over what will happen next with the Shattuck campus. I know there are a lot of priorities on the minds of JP and Mattapan residents when it comes to land use, including affordable housing, green space, and human services. I will be in touch with state agencies to make sure there is a concrete process in place to find out what the neighborhood’s priorities are for the land.”
Samantha Wechsler, interim executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition, said in an email that the organization is gathering more information, as no one from the state has been in contact with it. But, she added, “Since the Shattuck is on land that is adjacent to — and was originally part of — Franklin Park, we would certainly love for that land to benefit park users. As the future of the property is considered, we look forward to being part of what we hope will be a thorough community process to determine what would be best for the park and the community.”