Doctors call on Vt. to fix ailing mental health system - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Doctors call on Vt. to fix ailing mental health system

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We've told you about the attacks on nurses, about patients being held at the Springfield jail and about the hundreds of hours patients have spent waiting in emergency rooms for care that won't adequately address their needs. It's been a long year and a half for the state's mental health system, Fletcher Allen doctors are fed up. "We need an intensive care unit for psychiatric patients and we needed it a year ago," Emergency Department Medical Director, Ray Keller said.

Since Tropical Storm Irene wiped out the Vermont State Hospital in August of 2011, Ray Keller and other emergency department doctors have been caring for patients undergoing acute mental health crises. They often force these patients to wait days, sometimes weeks to be admitted. "I'm talking about the sickest mental health patients are spending days in emergency departments waiting for an opening somewhere for them to be housed," Keller said.

Keller says the state has had a year and a half to solve this problem, state officials say, other than constructing a new facility in Berlin which could take up to two years, there's little they can do.

Interim Mental Health Commissioner Mary Moulton says, "They're justified certainly at being frustrated by the waits that people are experiencing." She says emergency rooms are the state's only option, housing patients elsewhere is against the law. "We're really saying they need hospital care so to move them to a space outside of a hospital is not really what we feel is the purview of the law," Moulton said.

So the state's only option is construction, Moulton adds the Morrisville facility, which will provide an extra 8 beds, is expected to open in the coming weeks. That facility should relieve some waiting time. "We are working really hard I can tell you that to get things up and running," Moulton said.

For doctor's like Keller, relief can't come soon enough, he says it's impacting quality of care for all patients, not just those in need of psychiatric care with no other place to go. "It's stressing us. It's stressing our staff because we have to have extra staffing that person is actually taking up a bed that other patients walking into our emergency department can't use," Keller said.

Moulton says the state will announce the opening date for the Morrisville facility this week.


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