Vt. report outlines improvements to system for treating eating disorders

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 9:41 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A new report out Tuesday details solutions to improve the treatment of eating disorders in Vermont. It’s a problem that was exacerbated by the pandemic, according to experts. Families and providers say the state lacks enough options for families whose loved ones --- especially young adults and teens -- are struggling with an eating disorder. And lawmakers last session told the health and mental health departments to create a working group to find out what the state needs to treat them.

When we spoke last year to eating disorder patients, parents, and providers -- all pointed to an uphill battle to get healthy again in Vermont.

“I knew what might work and I couldn’t get it for her,” said Karen Bates, a mother whose daughter suffered from an eating disorder.

“There isn’t a lot in Vermont in terms of resources, " said Abby Hawkins, a Rutland 21-year-old who says her eating disorder was slowly killing her at college.

“There’s not enough treatment in the state of Vermont,” said Elaina Efird, a registered dietician.

“That’s a big hole in care,” said Kate Morris, a licensed clinical social worker and intuitive eating counselor based in Central Vermont.

Dr. Kelley Klein with the Vt. Department of Mental Health, knows firsthand that passion can’t make up for a lack of resources. “There’s no lack of passion around this topic in the state of Vermont,” she said. “They just need more and they need some guidance.”

Their report says primary care providers are often left shouldering the burden -- a perfect storm of a convoluted system of care with minimal training and support and nowhere to send patients who need more help than they can give.

“Especially working in the emergency department, it’s very clear that we’re lacking that level of care. So, when people are needing a more intensive environment, they’re having to go out of state currently,” Klein said.

Many of the report’s solutions are built around raising awareness. They include more eating disorder training options for health care professionals, especially those who work with kids; More routine screening for eating disorders; More education for school staff on how to identify and prevent eating disorders; And more public health messaging.

“Making sure that people have early awareness of what’s going on, seeking that lower level of care, that medium level of care, is going to make it so that we don’t have to access the higher levels of care quite as often,” Klein said.

The report does not call for building a full in-patient residential facility here -- Klein says there weren’t enough patients who needed that -- but it does call for adding and streamlining approval for intensive outpatient treatment and partial hospitalization programs in-state so that patients can step up or down in care as needed. “They have this kind of ladder of care that they can access, and we’re completely lacking that,” she said.

It’s now up to Vermont lawmakers to decide where to go from here.

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