The Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury has seen its share of troubles. It lost its federal certification and funding in February. In July, federal officials found the hospital failed to protect patients or provide adequate psychiatric services. And many believe the aging building no longer serves the needs of patients or staff.
"The mental health system has been under tremendous financial stress over a period of several years and we've seen erosion of the availability and quality of services during that period," says Sen. Jim Leddy, D-Chittenden County.
A new plan approved by the Douglas administration would close the Waterbury facility and open a new hospital in Burlington with an estimated 32 beds for treating the mentally ill. Human Services Secretary Michael Smith accepted a committee recommendation to locate the new facility near Fletcher Allen Health Care-- the state's only teaching hospital.
"It's a sign of hope, but we have a long ways to go," says Leddy.
Leddy co-chairs the legislature's joint committee on mental health oversight. He says the plan's success will depend on the details.
"How you move forward when you have a multiple of challenges-- number of beds, how it will be located on campus, what cost and budgeting will be and the time frame. I'm hopeful, but before we declare victory, we need to make sure other key elements are in place."
Besides the Burlington facility, the plan also calls for two smaller, satellite hospitals in other parts of the state, two "sub-acute" facilities for patients needing a moderate level of care and support for community mental health programs to treat people before they need hospitalization.
"This is a positive development, but can only succeed if all elements of a care system are in place, adequately funded and working in a coordinated, integrated fashion," says Leddy.
The actual size of the hospital would depend on an independent study about what the state's needs are expected to be. We tried to get reaction from the Vermont Association of Mental Health and Howard Center for Human Services Wednesday evening but our calls were not returned.
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