(Host) A leading mental health advocate says the state has failed to make progress on treating mentally ill people at regional hospitals.
So Ken Libertoff of the Vermont Association for Mental health says the state should replace the aging state hospital in Waterbury with a new facility.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) Ken Libertoff has spent two decades trying to close the Vermont State Hospital and move mentally ill patients out in to the community. But he’s frustrated by the lack of progress, and he says the state now needs to make some tough choices.
(Libertoff) "The Legislature and the executive branch should consider the possibility of opening up a new state hospital in Waterbury. In some ways this is a defeat for many of us who believed that the best plan would be to regionalize services."
(Dillon) Libertoff says a five year effort to close the 54 bed facility and have its patients treated by regional hospitals is stalled. His idea for a new hospital has the backing of the state employees union, which estimates it would cost about $46 million to build a new hospital on state-owned land in Waterbury
Libertoff says a new facility is needed because the old one has been de-certified and despite renovations doesn’t meet modern health care standards.
(Libertoff) "It’s proven difficult and frankly impossible to move forward after five years. This is a major fiscal crisis and it’s an even bigger health care crisis And if the solution is in building a new state hospital, then we should take a good hard look at that."
(Dillon) Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hartman says he understands Libertoff’s frustration, but doesn’t agree with his solution.
He says the state has worked to regionalize mental health services based on a strong consensus among advocates and others that the state hospital should not simply be replaced.
(Hartman) "But that it should be more reflective based on what the more current and up-to-date care models are for persons with severe mental or serious illness."
(Dillon) Hartman says the federal government will not pay for Medicaid patients to be treated at a large freestanding institution like the state hospital. He says the feds want mentally ill people cared for in a facility that’s associated with a traditional hospital.
(Hartman) "So starting off from a place where there’s a shaky federal participation does not seem like the best starting place to us for the state to begin with this kind of investment."
(Dillon) Hartman agrees with Libertoff that the Legislature needs to act this year. He’ll unveil a new master plan for mental health services later this week.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.