Town officials in Berlin want the state to build its new mental health hospital next to Central Vermont Medical Center rather than adjacent to the town’s elementary school, and disability rights advocates agree.
In August, the state hospital in Waterbury was washed out in Tropical Storm Irene. The Shumlin administration and Legislature agreed to a decentralized state hospital system. Regional care is planned in Brattleboro and Rutland. Two locations have been identified in Berlin for a 16- to 25-bed state hospital. One is behind the Vermont State Library along Paine Turnpike and the other next to the Central Vermont Medical Center.
Berlin select board members say they would like the new hospital to be built next to the Medical Center.
"There is some concern that the Paine Turnpike or regional library site is probably not the best site," says Jeff Schulz, Berlin’s town administrator. Schulz says some residents are worried about the site’s proximity to the town’s elementary school.
"That area is part of what the town has labeled as town center and the town has a long-term plan to develop that area into a commercial base," Schulz says.
The town doesn’t want land removed from its grand list of taxable property, so it will seek payment from the state in lieu of taxes.
Mental health advocates say they also would like to see the new facility built next to the Medical Center. They say it would provide easy access to specialty physical and mental health care.
Ed Paquin, executive director of Disability Rights Vermont, says the state’s decision will affect the treatment of thousands of Vermonters.
"We don’t need another isolated state hospital – something that’s not seen as part of wider system," Paquin says.
The proximity between the mental hospital and the medical center, Paquin says, should benefit patients with longer-term needs. "When you need that level of care it shouldn’t be treated as though it were the poor second cousin of medical care."
The state is expected to make its decision between the two proposed sites in the coming weeks, and Berlin’s Development Review Board will then consider the state’s plan for a new facility later this summer.