Mental health providers envision new approach

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(Host) A group of hospital psychiatric care providers says the state needs to reassess the entire mental health care system in order to improve patient care. They say the current system is fragmented, with patients falling through the cracks. They say there’s a critical need to improve coordination between care providers, state agencies and the courts.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The group of hospital-based mental health providers says the debate about the state hospital has created a chance to talk about the entire mental health care system in Vermont.

They gave some striking examples of how the system fails to operate economically and in the interests of some patients. Frederick Engstrom is with Retreat Healthcare in Brattleboro. Engstrom cited the recent arrival of a young patient at Retreat.

(Engstrom) “A sheriff’s car came from Lamoille County and there were two sheriffs and they opened the back door and there was an eight-year-old boy in shackles. And he was a very calm, sweet little boy. The agreement in the state is that, A – the sheriffs will transport, and B – they will transport only with somebody in shackles.”

(Zind) Engstrom called the procedure, which is currently required of police, grim and expensive. He said the state can find better ways to transport patients.

The group also wants to do away with separate standards for psychiatric and medical care that make it more difficult to treat psychiatric patients. Providers say many people have problems that are psychiatric, physical and social and there needs to be closer coordination of mental health, medical services and the criminal justice system to make sure they receive proper treatment.

Bea Grause of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems says the problems will become more acute as the population ages.

(Grause) “As we have our patients getting older and having 1,2,3,4 chronic illnesses, we have to develop a system that is going to better efficiently take care of them – not only from a clinical perspective but from a financial perspective as well.”

(Zind) The group says it hopes its recommendations will help the people recognize how interconnected health services are in the state and how decisions about the state hospital will have a ripple affect.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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