Douglas opposes closing Vermont State Hospital

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll oppose any effort by the Legislature to close down the State Hospital in Waterbury. Douglas says the state needs such a facility and his administration is taking steps to regain federal certification for the hospital.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Should the state of Vermont close down its mental hospital in Waterbury and send many of the patients to regional mental health programs? The Legislature’s Health Care Oversight Committee believes the answer to this question is yes but Governor Jim Douglas has a very different opinion.

Twenty years ago there were more than 1,000 patients at the state hospital but this number was greatly reduced through the policies of deinstitutionalization in the 1980s and 90s. Today, on average, there are usually about 50 patients at the hospital; of this group between 10 and 15 have been sent there by the state’s court system for evaluation before trial or for pretrial detention.

The governor says his administration is committed to regaining federal certification for the hospital. This fall the Bush administration decertified the facility because of treatment and accountability issues. Douglas says closing the state hospital is not an option at this time:

(Douglas) “I don’t think shutting it down is a possibility without some alternative. We have an obligation to care for those who are the most seriously mentally ill in our society. We have an obligation to Vermonters to make sure that the public is protected from those who are a danger to themselves or to society. So we need a capacity for providing that level of service.”

(Kinzel) Douglas notes that a special report concerning the future of the state hospital is due in about a month. While the long term outlook for the hospital may be uncertain, the governor says, in the short term, he’s committed to improving services at the facility:

(Douglas) “For now, that means insuring that the Vermont State Hospital is accredited and providing the highest quality care that we can offer. So I think we have to move forward with the additional resources during the current and next fiscal year and then we’ll see what the long term system looks like after the report comes out next month.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says state spending on the operational budget of the hospital increased 24 percent this year. The governor says he’ll be proposing additional increases for next year’s budget.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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