State halts admissions at Lowell psychiatric hospital

State mental health officials continue to discover serious lapses inside psychiatric hospitals owned by Arbour Health System. This time, they have suspended admissions to Lowell Treatment Center after finding “serious issues involving patient safety.’’

The state Department of Mental Health also found that the facility was not clean or well organized, according to a statement e-mailed to the Globe on Tuesday by the agency’s spokeswoman, Daniela Trammell.

The department conducted surprise inspections at Lowell and at Pembroke Hospital on the evening of Aug. 31. Inspectors did not find safety issues at Pembroke, but admissions to Lowell were suspended later that night and remain closed, the mental health department said.


Arbour Spokeswoman Judy Merel characterized the state’s findings differently. Merel said state officials identified “a small number of findings related to the physical plant and clinical documentation. “As a result, she wrote in an e-mail, the hospital sped up improvements, including installing new floors in patient treatment areas.

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Merel said improvements will be completed by the end of the week, and the company anticipates inspectors will allow admissions to resume soon.

State inspectors returned to Lowell Sept. 1 and Sept. 6 but did not allow it to reopen to new patients. There are currently eight adults and four teenagers being treated at the hospital.

Lowell Treatment Center and Pembroke Hospital share a license with Westwood Lodge, which was closed permanently last month because of critical safety issues. They are all owned by Arbour Health System, the largest provider of inpatient psychiatric services in Massachusetts.

After years of safety lapses, the state had given Westwood Lodge many chances to improve care for patients but finally shut it down Aug. 25 after what it called an “alleged incident.'' An employee told the Globe that a female patient was allegedly sexually assaulted by a male patient in her bedroom.


A Globe review last June found that the seven — now six — psychiatric hospitals owned by Arbour have repeatedly and sometimes egregiously shortchanged patient care while reaping robust profits.

Earlier this month, the federal government said it planned to fine Lowell $207,000 for failing to follow through on promises to correct workplace safety violations. As a result, at least three employees were seriously injured during the first four months of this year, including a nursing supervisor who suffered a concussion, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said. Arbour said it is contesting the findings.

Arbour is owned by Universal Health Services, the biggest psychiatric hospital company in the country. It is facing fraud investigations in numerous states.

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at