Union argues for State Hospital to remain open

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(Host) The union that represents employees at the Vermont State Hospital says it doesn’t make sense to close the aging facility until a more modern replacement is found. Some lawmakers and advocacy groups say the hospital should be shut down. But the hospital workers say the state will always need a place to treat seriously mentally ill Vermonters.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Goldy Watson has worked at the Vermont State Hospital for 12 years. According to Watson, the Waterbury institution is the place of last resort for the acutely mentally ill.

(Watson) “We’re the safety net. When nobody else will take this patient, we take them all.”

(Dillon) Watson is deputy nursing administrator at the Waterbury facility, but she says she doesn’t speak for the hospital administration. Instead, she’s an active member of the state employee’s union. And Watson says many of the 180 state hospital workers got very nervous last week when they learned that a health care oversight committee wants to close the hospital.

Watson says the state shouldn’t close the hospital until a new facility is built. She says that state workers, not private contractors, should run the new institution.

(Watson) “My staff is trained extensively in dealing with dangerous behavior, with assaultive behavior, with de-escalating situations, and with the concept that we have to use the least force necessary so you can never hit back. So that the patient who is striking you, you can’t hit back, and that’s a difficult concept to promote on an outside level where people aren’t used to somebody coming up and taking a swing at them just because they’re having a bad day.”

(Dillon) The hospital failed a federal inspection last summer and it could lose more than $3 million in federal funding. The Douglas administration is scrambling to make up the funding shortfall and improve conditions at the Waterbury facility.

The state employees’ union agrees with Governor Douglas that the facility can’t be closed anytime soon. But the workers would like to see the hospital eventually moved to another location, preferably one near an existing medical facility.

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

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