Plan to close Vermont State Hospital draws criticism

Print More

(Host) The state employees’ union will appeal the federal government’s decision to de-certify the Vermont State Hospital. Hospital workers told lawmakers on Tuesday that the Douglas administration has moved too quickly to close the facility.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Three weeks ago the federal government pulled the certification and the funding for the 54-bed hospital. The Douglas administration decided not to fight the decision, which means the state loses $3.1 million in Medicaid funds. Instead, the administration accelerated plans to close the hospital. It wants to move about 15 patients by the end of March. Several patients have already been transferred.

But the state employees union says it will challenge the de-certification. It’s an unusual move, but union director Annie Noonan says workers feel strongly that the hospital should remain open.

(Noonan) “We’re disappointed that the administration is not filing the appeal. It’s a facility that provides a really critical service to Vermonters, and it’s a service that in our view is not easily able to be replicated in other facilities around the state.”

(Dillon) Hospital workers say that the administration’s plan to transfer many patients to private, community hospitals is flawed since those institutions are allowed to turn away people with severe mental health conditions.

Dr. Lawrence Thomson has worked at the Waterbury institution for 32 years and is now the hospital’s director of psychology services. He testified before the Senate Government Operations Committee.

(Thomson) “The whole idea that this plan will suddenly, magically be effective with the community hospitals taking on folks and working with them just scares me because I just don’t think they want to. They’ve never really been that interested. And they don’t have the experience and the training.”

(Dillon) Thomson said that in December, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington rejected four patients that the state hospital had tried to send them.

The state’s decision to close the hospital will get a close look later this week when Senate committees hold confirmation hearings for top Douglas administration officials. Senator Jim Condos is a Chittenden County Democrat who chairs the Government Operations panel. He said he wants to know more about how the administration’s plan will affect patients and their families, especially if patients are transferred to institutions far from home.

(Condos) “And I think these are things that have not been well thought out. And frankly with the current changes going on in the administration, it just leaves me to believe that the administration is unsure of what to do and this is the easy way out.”

(Dillon) In the long term, the administration wants to build a 28-bed mental health unit on the grounds of a general hospital. A separate facility would still be needed for the most seriously mentally ill.

But hospital workers say it makes more sense to keep all the services together at one state institution. They proposed that the state build a new hospital on state-owned land in Berlin.

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

Comments are closed.