The architect, Pitts, said there is a therapeutic purpose behind the fact that all bedrooms are on one side of a corridor; the other side is lined by small sitting areas. Patients can look out and decide whether they are ready to step out and socialize or return to privacy of their room.
“It’s not about being alone; it’s about control,” said Pitts, who worked with the Cambridge-based architectural firm Ellenzweig Associates, in designing the hospital.
Pitts said he is not aware of long-term studies that have conclusively linked these designs to improved patient outcomes, but said his blueprints are influenced by advice from psychiatrists, neuroscientists, nurses, researchers, and families, among others, who have explained what spaces work well for the mentally ill.
Among the new hospital’s 320 beds, 60 are devoted to a separate adolescent wing.
For many advocates of the mentally ill, the opening is a cause for celebration, though they recognize challenges lie ahead. Many of the 300 patients who will gradually move in from other state hospitals are easily agitated when having to change routines and relocate. The 1,200 staff members, most of whom are used to working in the older hospitals, will also have to learn new protocols and security measures.
Still, Phil Hadley, former president of the Massachusetts board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and part of a committee formed seven years ago to discuss a new psychiatric hospital, said the facility is a radical departure from the past.
“There were six to a room, and you have to walk down the hall to the shower,” said Hadley, a Gloucester resident who had a child hospitalized for severe mental illness. The new hospital in Worcester, he said, is “a real recovery center.”
Patricia Wen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.