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Mental health advocates gather for annual meeting - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mental health advocates gather for annual meeting

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Wednesday morning health officials and those receiving care touted the way Vermont treats some of the states most challenging patients. "Vermont truly is known as a national leader in mental health and addiction recovery," said Peter Espenshade, Executive Director of the Vermont Association for Mental Health & Addiction Recovery.

Advocates say 70 percent of drug addiction cases involve patients with some form of mental illness. Espenshade says a care continuum is needed. "What our job is in the recovery field is to find the right path for each individual," he said.

He says that means unifying funding and bureaucratic systems as well as providing everything from beds to peer groups. "I think we have the opportunity to and are going to build something very special," he said.

State Representative Anne Donahue of Northfield agrees with the prescription, but says the state's still struggling to recover from Irene washing out the state hospital. She cites long waits for beds -- sometimes in jail -- and overly restricted budgets. Donahue says she'll push the legislature to ban involuntary commitments and medication.

Sandra Steingard is the Medical Director of Burlington's Howard Center, which provides services for the mentally ill and addicted. She says she's strongly opposed to involuntary care but that it needs to be an option to protect doctors, staff and the patient. "I really strongly believe that it should be the absolute last resort," she said.

She says simple steps like earlier intervention and training family members would generate positive results. The easiest way for the legislature to impact care would be to spend more money. But with a less-than-healthy budget outlook, advocates may need to be more creative and are planning a year's worth of brain-storming.

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