State chooses site near Central Vermont Medical Center for new mental health hospital
by vtdigger.org June 5, 2012 The state has chosen to locate a new 25-bed mental health hospital on a 20-acre parcel adjacent to the Central Vermont Medical Center. Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding notified Berlin officials and mental health organizations of the choice Monday by letter, saying, “The governor made it clear … that his priority is to put the interests of future patients and the residents of Berlin first.”
The state had encountered considerable opposition to an alternative site in Berlin being considered near the regional library on Paine Turnpike. The administration’s decision defuses a potential conflict over the alternative location.
Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding. VBM file photo.
Berlin officials said they wanted to keep the Paine Turnpike site for possible development as a town center and raised concerns about the location’s proximity to the elementary school. A variety of mental health advocates and professionals urged the Shumlin administration not to choose the Paine Turnpike regional library site because its distance from the medical hospital would not provide the best treatment model for those with acute mental illness.
Both argued that co-locating at the medical hospital was their strong preference.
The selection comes even though the state is still negotiating a contract for the property with the owners, Henry Lague Jr., Henry Lague III and Peter and Gail Rossiter, according to Buildings and General Services Commissioner Michael Obuchowski.
Berlin town administrator Jeff Schulz said the town was pleased the state had selected the site adjacent to CVMC for the new 30,000-square-foot mental health hospital. He said the town was “open and receptive to the idea of the facility being in Berlin” but noted the selectboard and townspeople were clear that they “very much preferred” the site adjacent to the hospital.
Schulz said the only local permits needed would be approval of a local site plan and conditional use permit, as well as a curb cut permit from the selectboard.
Jeff Burley, an official with the state buildings division, said no Act 250 permit will be required because the land footprint for the hospital meets an exemption for projects under 10 acres.
The state is in full-speed-ahead mode with the new state hospital project because of a shortage of acute-care beds following the closure of the 54-bed Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene last August. Spaulding told Berlin officials last week that the mental health system continues to be severely strained by the shortage and the state wants to build the hospital as quickly as possible.
Spaulding said the earliest the facility could be open is still estimated to be the beginning of 2014, 18 months from now.
The new hospital will be part of a total overhaul of Vermont’s mental health care system adopted by the Legislature last session that boosts community treatment and creates three regional acute-care facilities to replace the Waterbury State Hospital. Besides the Berlin facility, the state will support 14 beds at the Brattleboro Retreat and six at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
There were numerous voices urging the Shumlin administration to locate the facility at the CVMC site.
Ed Paquin, the head of Disability Rights Vermont and a respected advocate in the Legislature, sent a letter along with 13 others urging Spaulding and Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood to chose the hospital location. The letter from Paquin was co-signed by a range of professionals and advocates in the mental health field, including Jack McCullough, director of the Mental Health Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid, Allen Gilbert, executive director of ACLU-Vermont, Alice Silverman, the president of the Vermont Psychiatric Association, and Diana Tetrault of the Vermont Mental Health Counselor’s Association.
Paquin said he decided to draft the letter and see who would sign on after Rep. Anne Donahue. R-Northfield, “got me to thinking” about the issue. Donahue, who also signed the letter, had raised public concerns that locating the acute-care mental health facility separate from the medical center was an outmoded idea that would stigmatize mental health patients and not provide the best care.
Paquin’s letter addressed that same point, saying the more distant Berlin location in an undeveloped field would create “an asylum,” which is the opposite of what is needed. “If people need hospital level care they should receive that care in the most integrated setting possible” adjacent to CVMC, the letter said.
In an interview before the state announced its decision, Paquin added that “mental health care is not an isolated thing. It should be integrated with other types of treatment.”
While he praised the mental health overhaul passed by the Legislature and the Shumlin administration instituting a more community based model of care, he said replacing the old 54-bed Waterbury state hospital, flooded by Tropical Storm Irene, needs to address the needs of that population of patients needing acute care.
“Our hospital-level beds should be reserved for hospital-level patients,” he said. “Their needs are often more complex and it really makes sense to afford them good access to all kinds of medical care.”
Having the 25-bed hospital on the hospital campus with ready access is the best way to do that and to assure “parity,” he said.