When Tropical Storm Irene forced the closure of the Vermont State Hospital last year, it meant the loss of more than 50 beds for psychiatric patients. And that has resulted in an increase in the number of people who are waiting in emergency rooms because there aren’t enough mental health beds available. But the state may be getting closer to easing the pressure felt by the state’s private hospitals.
Post-Irene, the state has been left with about two-dozen fewer beds for mentally ill patients. The result has been that psychiatric patients taken to hospital emergency rooms are being kept there for longer periods of time.
Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood says several factors will help alleviate the situation. First is the opening of an 8-bed temporary hospital in Morrisville, which is expected to happen on November 7, barring delays. There are also plans to add a residential facility in northwestern Vermont by early winter.
In the meantime, Flood says his department has been pro-active in finding space for the patients involved.
Flood commented, "In the past, it was, the department had more of a hands-off approach and the hospitals were kind of on their own. Now, I have a team of people we meet every morning. I meet with them. We go over every single person who’s waiting or, in many cases, we can anticipate someone who might be going to a hospital and we try to manage the comings and the goings and the bed supply very actively with the hospitals."
Since Irene, the state has used Fletcher-Allen Health Care, Rutland Regional Medical Center and Brattleboro Retreat to house psychiatric patients who would have previously been sent to the State Hospital. The Springfield Correctional facility has also been called into service, but Flood says that’s about to end.
"We just moved three of the four patients to community placements, which I think is a very big deal," said Flood. "It took a tremendous amount of work by the staff, but we intend to close that unit down entirely within days."
Flood says that using emergency rooms to process psychiatric patients is not a new practice in the state.
"Emergency rooms, for better or for worse, by and large are used to dealing with these kinds of patients but I think what’s new is that they’re not used to seeing as many perhaps in a period of time or seeing them stay as long as they do," said Flood.
Some patients have spent up to five days in the emergency room, whereas in the past they may have been sent to a psychiatric facility within hours.