Governor Signs Bill Designed To Overhaul Mental Health System

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A bill that overhauls the state’s mental health system was signed into law Wednesday.

The new law calls for the state to replace the outdated 54-bed state mental health hospital that formerly operated in Waterbury.

That hospital was badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene’s floods last year. The state has long looked for a way to replace the Waterbury hospital.

Governor Peter Shumlin presented the pen he signed the bill with to Morgan Brown, a mental health advocate.

Brown said the new law will create a more balanced approach to caring for mental health patients.

"While this is something long overdue, it is most gratefully welcomed," Brown said.

The state plans to build a new 25-bed hospital in Berlin to replace the central hospital.

Regional psychiatric units will be established in Brattleboro and Rutland. And patients will also be placed in smaller, less restrictive community settings.

Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood says the overhaul of mental health services is broad-based.

"One of the stories of this bill if you ask me is not just that it creates the best and most progressive mental health system in the country, but it is very comprehensive," Flood said. "Almost every aspect of the mental health system is changed or touched or improved."

State officials say enacting the law is also an important step in the recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.

Most of the 1,500 state employees who worked in the Waterbury complex have been in temporary quarters since August. This is the first step in relocating them.

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