State Hospital official testifies to House committee

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(Host) A top official at the Vermont State Hospital says the institution is on track to be recertified within nine months. The hospital medical director told a House committee that the hospital should win back federal funding before the end of the year.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) After two suicides and a pair of unfavorable inspection reports, the federal government last fall decertified the State Hospital. The move cost the state about $3 million in needed federal funds.

But Doctor Susan Wehry, the interim medical director at the Waterbury institution, says the federal action also led to a broad effort to improve patient care. Wehry testified on Thursday before the House Government Operations Committee.

(Wehry) “This has proven to be a golden opportunity, the hard way to do it, but a golden opportunity to really step back, look at the system and say, how are we going to provide the best quality of care for Vermonters who have mental illness?”

(Dillon) Since the federal decertification, the Douglas administration has hired additional staff and made many other improvements. Wehry said the biggest challenge that remains is to prove to the federal inspectors that medical staff members are getting patients actively involved in their care.

She says the hospital will probably invite federal inspectors back in March. If the hospital passes, the hospital will be re-inspected six months later. If it passes again, the federal funding will be restored.

(Wehry) “I do think that we’re on track for recertification. I have been very impressed, even when people are holding our feet to the fire and challenging us and there are differing opinions about how we are doing things, there is an enormous commitment to getting us back on track.”

(Dillon) The chairman of the committee, Republican Cola Hudson from Lyndonville, said he wants to find out more about the State Hospital, and what led to the decertification and the loss of federal funds.

(Hudson) “This is what I wanted to have happen, I wanted to hear this. I wanted to unravel it to some degree. I think we’ve started and I’m very appreciative.”

(Dillon) Although some lawmakers and advocates say the state should close the hospital, Doctor Wehry says Vermont will always need a public institution – whether in Waterbury or somewhere else – to treat the seriously mentally ill.

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

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