State Loses Another Key Mental Health Official

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The state mental health system has suffered another setback with the resignation of the medical director of the Vermont State Hospital.

The system was already under strain with patients needing psychiatric help waiting days in emergency rooms for care.

Now officials are concerned the resignation could delay the planned opening this month of a new residential treatment facility.

Medical Director Dr. Jay Batra was the lead clinician in charge of patient care at the Vermont State Hospital.

Batra told the state this week that he’ll leave his post by the end of the month for a job in the private sector. That puts the state in a tough spot, since it needs a medical director for a new eight-bed interim state hospital it had hoped to open this month in Morrisville.

Acting Mental Health Commissioner Mary Moulton says Batra’s departure could delay the opening of the Morrisville facility.

"What we can’t do is open a facility with the idea that we would have a medical director for 30 days, but that we don’t have someone to step in on day 31," she says.

Moulton says the state needs a medical director to oversee the facility, and consult with other providers on treatment for patients in state custody.

"I can just tell you that here at the Department of Mental Health we’re working really tirelessly to … find a person who will want to be the medical director for our facility," she says. "Jay is an incredibly qualified and well respected psychiatrist. So we are seeking a person of his caliber to fill that position."

Batra’s departure puts added strain on the Department of Mental Health. Former Commissioner Patrick Flood stepped down last month, and the department is under increasing pressure to resolve a mental health crisis left in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

The storm flooded the state hospital in Waterbury. Fifty-one patients were sent to other facilities around the state, including the Brattleboro Retreat. The state now plans to build a new hospital in Berlin, but that won’t be open until early 2014.

Northfield Republican Anne Donahue is concerned about the two resignations. Donahue co-chairs the Legislature’s Mental Health Oversight Committee, which heard this week that more patients are waiting for care in emergency rooms and in state correctional facilities. Donahue says a delay in opening the Morrisville hospital will make that situation worse.

"Any delay is going to perpetuate the crisis level of worsening waits in emergency rooms and in corrections for people who belong in hospitals who belong in a hospital level of care, rather than corrections," she says.

Acting Mental Health Commissioner Moulton says she trying to find a local psychiatrist would can step in and do the job, perhaps in affiliation with another hospital in Vermont.

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