Four or five years ago, VSEA suggested building a large, stand-alone VSH in central Vermont, but the idea was dismissed outright by the Douglas Administration. Good to see some clearer heads prevailing now!
Article published Apr 6, 2011
CVMC eyed as possible home for Vermont State Hospital
By David Delcore
BERLIN — The long-running search for a new home for Vermont State Hospital may ultimately end on the Berlin campus of Central Vermont Medical Center.
During what he characterized as “a courtesy call” Monday night, Secretary of Human Services Doug Racine told members of the Berlin Select Board that his agency is “seriously considering” the CVMC campus as a possible future home for the Waterbury-based hospital that serves patients in need of intense psychiatric treatment.
Describing his visit as “an early warning” to town officials, Racine, who was joined at Monday’s meeting by Mental Health Commissioner Christine Oliver, characterized CVMC as “a promising possibility” in what has been a long and often frustrating attempt to relocate the State Hospital.
“We are in serious discussions … with CV(MC) to talk about using their campus as a replacement site for the Vermont State Hospital,” Racine said, suggesting that while the proposal is still conceptual in nature, he thought it was best to arm board members with information before they are confronted by constituents.
“There are still a lot of questions in the air, there are still a lot of unknowns, there are a still a lot of possibilities about different sizes for the hospital we are considering, but this looks like a very promising discussion that we’ve started,” he said.
Board members calmly quizzed Racine and Oliver in an attempt to better understand what the agency has in mind and to determine what, if any, effect those plans might have on town resources.
Board members were told the 54-bed State Hospital includes 54 beds and employs 240 people. Though a comparably sized free-standing facility could be built on the CVMC campus, Oliver said the agency would prefer to build a slightly smaller facility.
“We’re targeting between 40 and 45 (beds),” she said, noting that plan was contingent on the ability to develop additional beds elsewhere in the state.
According to Oliver, the CVMC campus was attractive for a number of reasons, not the least of which was a readily available general hospital that could meet the medical needs of the patients of the state hospital. She said CVMC’s affiliation with Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington was viewed as an added bonus as was the fact that the offices of Washington County Mental Health Services are also located on the Berlin campus.
Oliver said construction of the hospital would not affect the in-patient psychiatric unit at CVMC and Racine stressed the state wasn’t shedding its responsibility to provide services and treatment to patients with acute psychiatric issues.
“The state would continue to own and operate and manage the hospital,” he said.
Board members raised questions about hospital security and Chairwoman Susan Gretkowski wondered whether the presence of the state hospital would place a strain on the town’s police department and potentially affect its tax base.
Racine, who said the state hospital employs its own security and has been a “good neighbor” in Waterbury for many years, took time to clarify Town Administrator Jeff Schulz’ observation that Vermont State Police — not local law enforcement — are summoned when issues arise.
“It’s a hospital, not a prison, but it’s secure,” Racine said.
Pressed for a time-frame, Oliver said discussions with CVMC would continue this summer with an eye toward bringing a proposal to the Legislature next session.
Racine, who noted the state has been attempting to relocate the state hospital for many years, said the prospective site was subject to change. In recent years both Fletcher Allen and Rutland Regional Medical Center have been considered as possible options for many of the same reasons CVMC has now been approached.
Gretkowski said at some point the board will want to take the community’s pulse in terms of the project and urged Oliver to keep the town posted.
“Keep us informed as you work out the details,” she said.