Brattleboro Retreat offers to take State Hospital patients

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(Host) The Brattleboro Retreat, a non-profit psychiatric facility, has offered to treat some of the patients now housed at the Vermont State Hospital. Earlier this week, the Waterbury hospital lost its federal certification and its federal funding after two patients escaped. In response, Governor Jim Douglas wants to close the hospital and move most of the patients within a year. Retreat officials say they’re ready to meet the need.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Brattleboro Retreat President Rick Palmisano came to the Statehouse with a simple message.

(Palmisano) “We’re offering to help with the need around the decertification and utilize the resources of the Retreat to meet the need.”

(Dillon) The Retreat has 149 licensed beds and is the state’s designated psychiatric institution for children and adolescents. But it also provides care for adults, and Palmisano says it could immediately take three of the approximately 48 patients now living at the State Hospital. He also says it has the capacity now for a total of 15 adult patients. And, with some lead time, it could handle another 20.

Although the Retreat is a secure, locked facility, Palmisano told the House Human Services Committee that there’s one group of patients it’s not equipped to care for.

(Palmisano) “The limiting factor on acuity is that we are not currently configured to take care of the most violent, criminally insane patient. And based on our understanding of the population, that’s about six patients.”

(Dillon) The Douglas administration has prepared a plan that calls for the State Hospital in Waterbury to be replaced eventually with a 28-bed facility at an academic medical center, along with a series of programs at community hospitals. That proposal may take some time to implement, however.

So Palmisano says his institution stands ready to treat State Hospital patients now, as well as long -term. He made the rounds of the Statehouse on Thursday and also met with Human Services Secretary Charles Smith.

Palmisano says the Retreat’s cost of care is competitive with the State Hospital and it’s less than other private institutions. The Retreat has also offered to try to hire state employees who work at the State Hospital.

But Jack McCullough, a Legal Aid lawyer who represents patients at the Waterbury institution, questions the idea of moving patients from around the state to southern Vermont.

(McCullough) “We have a state law that says you’re supposed to be treated in a hospital that’s closest to your home as possible. And there are good reasons for that.”

(Dillon) Administration officials say they’re interested in hearing more about the Retreat’s proposal.

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

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