Every inmate at the Southern State Correctional facility in Springfield is charged with a crime, was brought here in a jumpsuit and now sleeps in a jail cell. But five of them aren't prisoners. They're patients.
"How do you deal with this reality that you've suddenly inherited? You've got to figure it out on the fly," Vt. Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood said.
It's a problem Flood inherited when he was appointed as mental health commissioner back in December, after Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the Vermont State Hospital, displacing 54 patients statewide. Until now, no media has taken a look inside Unit C of the Springfield Correctional facility where state officials decided to place five high-risk patients, a solution we were told in September would be temporary.
"Everyone thought his would be very short, maybe a matter of weeks, and here we are 10 months later," Flood said.
The five Vermont State Hospital patients are being housed in Unit C, which is less than 100 feet from Unit D-- that's where general detainers are held. Further down is Unit F. That's where you'll find the most dangerous inmates in the state.
Each of the five state hospital patients are what's called forensic patients.
"Somebody who has been arrested, charged with a crime and because of a mental health condition they've been sent to a hospital for evaluation," Flood explained.
That means a judge decided jail was not appropriate for the patients, even though they're considered dangerous and need to be in a locked facility. But Irene put them there.
"A lot of them have been through the state before they got to us, so it kind of brings back déjà vu for them, bad memories," said Janet Isham, a Vermont State Hospital supervisor.
Isham says the change has been just as difficult for staff as for patients.
"No, it still feels like a jail cell in here and the doors lock behind you. And you don't really see light all daylong in there," she said.
"Jail is not a viable healthy alternative for anybody," said Bob Bick, a mental health professional at the HowardCenter in Burlington.
Bick says Springfield shouldn't be an option in the first place.
"Patients in Springfield are in an environment that is not conducive to recovery," he said. "And if that's our goal, which I think it is and should be, then any move that they can make even if it causes some transitional disruption, I think would be clinically advantageous."
Something Patrick Flood agrees with-- they've been searching for a solution for nearly a year. Now his goal is to avoid an anniversary.
"This is not any kind of acceptable situation for us in the long term we really have got to get folks out," Flood said.
The problem is state officials say there's no other secure facility in the state that's adequate to care for these patients. Due to patient confidentiality reasons we are unable to report the details of each crime, but state officials say most are considered relatively light crimes like disorderly conduct or trespassing. But we know from past court proceedings several patients have been committed to the care of the Vermont State Hospital after being charged with murder.
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