State hospital outlines plan

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(Host) Although Governor Jim Douglas wants to close the Vermont State Hospital, administration officials say the institution will still be needed for at least another year to treat a core group of people with severe mental illness.

Officials outlined a plan today that would cut the hospital’s population by about 15 over the next two months. The plan relies on hospitals around the state treating more of the people now served by the state hospital in Waterbury.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) After the federal government pulled the state hospital’s certification last week, Governor Douglas said he wanted to close the institution as soon as possible. But it’s not an easy task. Human Services Secretary Charles Smith and other top officials have scrambled to come up with a closure plan.

Smith told lawmakers that the hospital will still be needed for some time to come.

(Smith) “My hope and expectation in terms of the activities in Waterbury is that we would be down to a core mission – a real core mission – within 10 to 12 months or thereabouts. That’s the way I’m looking at the project now.”

(Dillon) Smith defines the core mission of the institution as treating those patients that existing hospitals around the state can’t handle, either because they’re too violent or their illness is so severe.

Over the next 40 to 50 days, Smith hopes to cut the hospital’s current population of 50 down to about 35. He’s relying on hospitals around the state agreeing to take more of the patients.

In the long term, the administration wants to build a 28-bed facility at a general hospital. Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington is on the list, but the administration also wants to see how other hospitals respond to requests for proposals for the new facility.

But since that facility will take four or five years to get permitted and built, officials are also talking to the Brattleboro Retreat and other institutions about absorbing more of the current state hospital population.

(Smith) “I personally have a high degree of confidence in the Retreat and I do see the Retreat being an important part of the activity as we go forward.”

(Dillon) Mental health advocates have called for the state hospital to be closed for years. But now there’s concern that the administration doesn’t have a solid plan and may be moving too quickly.

Ken Libertoff is director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health.

(Libertoff) “I think from our perspective we’re in a very dangerous situation, because expediting a plan before there is clarity – before there are details resolved – opens one up to unintended consequences. The suggestion that we may move too quickly is as alarming as not moving at all or moving too slowly.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers have decided to reconvene a special oversight committee to watch over the state’s effort in closing the state hospital.

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

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