Shumlin Proposes Regional Plan To Replace State Hospital

12/13/11 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP/Toby Talbot
The state hospital in Waterbury was badly damaged in Irene's floods.

(Host) Governor Peter Shumlin has outlined plans to replace the antiquated Vermont state hospital in Waterbury with a regional system of care for the mentally ill.

Shumlin's plans call for a new 15-bed hospital in Berlin, as well as the expansion of existing facilities in Brattleboro and Rutland.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The flood waters of Tropical Storm Irene accomplished what legislators and governors had not been able to do for a decade. The flood closed the Vermont State Hospital. And Governor Peter Shumlin says he will not move patients back to the outmoded facility that has been twice decertified by the federal government.

(Shumlin) "We've an opportunity here to provide community-based care to patients that mostly want to be treated in their home communities. And that's been the vision going back for several governors."

(Dillon) Shumlin wants to replace the 54 bed hospital with a 15-bed, state-owned hospital in central Vermont. The plan calls for 14 beds at the Brattleboro Retreat, six new beds at the Rutland Regional Medical Center, and up to five secure beds at the Windsor Correctional Facility.

In addition, the state will beef up community housing and treatment services for the mentally ill.

(Shumlin) "We believe this model is what is called for: a movement from centralization - although we'll still have centralization where necessary - to quality, community-based care where wrap-around services are provided to the least acute patients right at home. And obviously the more acute have beds to move them back into their communities as quickly as possible."

(Dillon) Shumlin says the new hospital in central Vermont could cost around $15 million. The total price tag for his proposal is around $27 million. He hopes FEMA and the state's insurance policy for the damaged building in Waterbury will cover some or all of the costs.

The governor unveiled his plan at a news conference packed with hospital officials, lawmakers and mental health advocates.

The main talking point of those who spoke was that the Irene crisis presents an opportunity to quickly improve mental health care in the state. Thomas Huebner is president of the Rutland hospital.

(Huebner) "There are no perfect solutions to this, there just aren't. And I said to the governor some weeks ago that it would take courage to come up with a solution that would work for Vermont and that if he did he would have my support and he does. Because this is important that we move forward knowing that there's no solution as the governor just said that will please every person here that's also doable."

(Dillon) But Northfield representative Anne Donahue says the governor's plan is flawed because it does not integrate mental health care with medical care. She would prefer a more centralized facility that is affiliated with a hospital.

(Donahue) "I think it would be a sad day in the state of Vermont if we step back from years and even decades of the principle of the integration of mental health and the rest of health care."

(Dillon) Donahue is a member of the mental health oversight committee. She says the governor's plan is a starting point for legislative review.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier

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