The process to continue forward movement on the Shattuck Hospital in JP and Newton Pavilion in the South End projects hasn’t stopped during COVID-19, but it also isn’t going anywhere fast – at least that’s what South End residents learned Tuesday night at the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA).
The projects work in tandem and would have major effects on Jamaica Plain and the South End – as the relocation of the hospital to the South End triggers a process to redevelop the Shattuck into a recovery campus vision – which will be detailed in a forthcoming RFP process this winter, state officials told WSANA.
Even with the news of slowness, members of WSANA and other South End advocates left the meeting somewhat hearted as Health and Human Services Undersecretary Lauren Peters agreed to take a message of urgency back to Secretary Marylou Sudders and Gov. Charlie Baker on potential interim uses at the Shattuck that would help the current situation of homelessness and open drug use at Mass/Cass.
“That feeling of urgency you have is not lost on any of us,” Peters said at the end of her portion of Tuesday’s meeting, which at times was a bit contentious. “I can take back this message about whether there are some additional short-term measures we can take. I can bring back a message of whether we can stand up services in a temporary fashion on Shattuck Campus or another property we control. I can take back the message about whether there are lessons learned from COVID-19 about standing up facilities in short order that can be applied to this issue.”
That was a bit of relief for South End residents who are ham-hocked in between the fight over Long Island Bridge and the long, ongoing process to get Shattuck Campus up and running as a potential “Recovery Campus.” With both things way over the horizon, and a crisis of massive proportions on the streets of the South End right now – many residents are looking for a short-term plan to bridge the gap between now and the future. And given the speed with which the Newton Pavilion and the South Boston Convention Center were put in place for COVID-19 treatment, many in the neighborhood would like to see the same urgency applied to the opiate epidemic that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
“We would ask that you call on other hospitals to help, maybe being able to move out the med-surge beds to meet a need here and now,” said South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox. “We have a crisis now and what we are hearing at this point is there is an RFP to be issued in January or February. For most of the people in the South End, that’s not a timely response from the state.”
Responded Peters, “I understand…but there is a process; we can’t kick out the people in the hospital now receiving services and flip it to something else tomorrow.”
Project Manager Frank Doyle said the Shattuck Hospital is nearly full right now, and there isn’t empty space that can be re-used for the sake of relieving the situation on Mass/Cass.
“The building’s pretty full and as full as it should be at this time,” he said.
That said, Peters did agree to take back the message to the state administration about some sort of interim measure to relieve the Mass/Cass problem.
Peters’ appearance was supposed to be a simple update, which was going well until the report began and neighbors did the math and realized any sort of relief from the Shattuck was years away.
Two years ago, the state announced it had brokered a deal to buy the Newton Pavilion from Boston Medical Center in the South End, and planned to move the 160-bed hospital facility from Jamaica Plain to the South End. As an agreement with neighbors, there was a promise to keep the Shattuck for a public health use, and to push for a “recovery campus” on the site that would also serve as a place to relocate some services from the South End. The Shattuck move to the Newton Pavilion was supposed to happen originally in 2021, with the recovery campus portion happening soon after, but then last year that was delayed until 2022. On Tuesday night, Peters said it would be 2024 before the Shattuck move would happen. No recovery campus construction and programming would occur at the Shattuck site until after the move – so around 2025.
An RFP to the development community for a type of recovery campus program, she said, has been slightly delayed but is on track to be released in early 2021.
“The hospital relocation is probably likely not to occur until 2024 at this point,” she said. “That is delayed because the Newton Pavilion building was re-purposed to serve some of the homeless population in the area during COVID-19…That COVID-19 response has delayed both of the projects a couple of months, but not much more than that.”
With the news of the RFP not going out until early 2021, and the Shattuck not moving to the South End until 2024 now, it set up a timeline that didn’t seem to offer the help many Southenders originally hoped it would.
Major construction on the Newton Pavilion isn’t expected until June 2021, Doyle said, but they have been working to take soil samples and do other preliminary work this month.
Neighbor Jacob Oppenheim wanted to ensure that the problem in the South End wasn’t going to simply be relocated to the Forest Hills area of JP and into Franklin Park.
“The goal is not to put a Band-Aid on the situation and hope it goes away,” said Peters. “The goal is to solve the problem and hopefully with the right set of circumstances it will help solve the problem and not just move folks to another part of town. The goal is to create a programmatic model with integrated physical and behavioral health services.”