Short and long term solutions sought for State Hospital

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(Host) Although a new report says the Vermont State Hospital should be closed, Governor Jim Douglas says the institution has to be kept open for now. But the governor says that in the long term the state must find a better way to care for people with severe mental illness.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The consultant’s report was commissioned before the State Hospital lost its federal certification last fall. But after two suicides and a pair of unfavorable federal inspection reports, the study gained new urgency. The hospital lost its federal certification in September and the state lost almost $3 million in federal funds.

The report recommends several options to replace the 110-year-old Waterbury institution, including merging the hospital with an existing medical center. Governor Douglas says for now the hospital must stay open.

(Douglas) “I look at the State Hospital situation really in two phases: what we need to do immediately, and then how we design our system for delivering mental health services for the people of Vermont. For the short term we need to bring that hospital up to the level of service that’s appropriate for the most serious mentally ill among us and to regain certification by the federal Center for Medicaid Services, which we lost last year.”

(Dillon) The hospital building dates back to an era when 1,300 people were institutionalized in Waterbury; the hospital census is now around 54 people and many of its buildings have been turned into state offices. One ward of the hospital was converted several years ago into a prison for women. Douglas says the state does need a replacement for the hospital in the long term.

(Douglas) “It’s not an attractive place. I did visit there last year, and it’s a facility that has been neglected. In the budget adjustment last year I recommended 22 percent immediately for the state hospital because it needed some immediate support.”

(Dillon) The State Hospital is the place of last resort for the seriously mentally ill. It accepts patients who are rejected by Vermont’s private hospitals. Douglas said he wants to bring everyone to the table – including the private hospitals – to help improve the mental health system.

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

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