State drafts plan for replacing state psychiatric hospital

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(Host) State officials have drafted three proposals to replace the Vermont State Hospital. But a leading lawmaker says the plan falls far short of what the Legislature expected.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Vermont is under pressure to come up with alternatives to the state hospital in Waterbury. The institution treats the most seriously mentally ill in the state. But it lost its federal certification – and its federal funding – after two suicides last year.

The Legislature set a deadline of Friday for the Douglas administration to come up with a draft proposal to replace the aging hospital.

Human Services Secretary Charles Smith appeared before the Vermont Association for Mental Health and underscored the administration’s pledge to close the facility.

(Smith) “Lest there be any doubt about it: it is the commitment from the Douglas administration that we will vacate the hospital premises in Waterbury for the kinds of hospital treatment services that are now housed there.”

(Dillon) Smith says the changeover from the hospital should take about three years. The state’s plan sets out three alternatives for the 54-bed hospital.

The first would be to build a new facility to serve the current population. The second would be to split the services among a hospital, a community-based center for less severe patients, and a secure residential facility. And the third involves two or more facilities attached to existing hospitals in order to offer more services around Vermont.

(Jim Leddy) “I think we’ve wasted a full year at addressing the future of hospitalization for the seriously mentally ill in this state.”

(Dillon) Chittenden County Senator Jim Leddy is not happy with the state’s progress. The Democrat chairs the Senate Health Committee. He says that a year ago a legislative oversight committee called for the hospital to be closed. According to Leddy, the Legislature set the October deadline for the state to come up with a plan because officials had dragged their feet.

Leddy says the plan that the state finally produced isn’t good enough.

(Leddy) “Is this a technical compliance with what was done? I guess you could say it is. Is it a plan? Absolutely not.”

(Dillon) But the Douglas administration says that the hospital staff and administrators have worked hard over the past year to improve conditions and to win back federal certification. They hope the federal money will resume in December.

Doctor Susan Wehry, who’s the deputy commissioner for mental health, says the state will provide more details in January.

(Wehry) “We’re working really hard. We’ve made progress. I probably share Jim’s wish that things would always go fast. I really don’t think of it as a year wasted. I think of it as being what it is and that the movement is in a forward direction and that we will keep trying.”

(Dillon) The state faces a financial deadline as well. Even if the hospital wins back federal certification, the feds have decided not to fund mental institutions like the state hospital. And that’s $4 million that will be cut over the next 18 months.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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