Vt. officials move forward with plans for new psychiatric facility

Published: Oct. 23, 2019 at 5:42 PM EDT
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Vermont mental health officials are moving forward on planning for a new mental health facility to replace the temporary Middlesex facility and help relieve the strain on the state's mental health system.

Last legislative session lawmakers called for the closure of and replacement of the Middlesex Secure Residential Facility.

The report calls for expediency in building the new facility, which is slated to have 16 beds. Right now the Middlesex facility can only hold seven patients and is considered woefully inadequate. Federal officials last year had even threatened to cut off funding for it because it was only considered temporary.

The assembly of white trailers surround by a fence was built after the old state hospital in Waterbury was wiped out by Irene. Now almost a decade later, state leaders are hoping to move forward.

The most extreme mental health cases are supposed to go to the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, but that only has a 25 bed capacity. That's left a backlog of patients in emergency rooms across the state.

Vermont Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrel says many of the system's problems stem from that lack of a centrally located step down-facility. "They can transition to a lower-level of care that still has access to the treatment that they need, potentially in a secure setting, but allows them to transition closer to the community," she said.

Many lawmakers are applauding the plan to move quickly on the new facility, saying the current facility is not safe. "Last year some of the house health care members actually couldn't get the emergency exit door open because of swelling, the bottom of the trailer shifts" said Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield.

But as the state moves forward on the new facility, Donahue says lawmakers will need to brace for sticker shock of the price tag. "We've been identifying this as a priority for a long time but until you've got the land and the plans, you don't actually have to come up with the money. And now we're actually going to have to come up with it," Donahue said.

Estimates earlier this year had the new facility costing upwards of $4.5 million. It was expected to be located in Berlin near the other hospital but that has not been finalized. Regardless, they hope to break ground on the new facility by spring.