"The publication of this mythical account eradicates the true story of the extraordinary response of the hospital’s staff and the contributions of community partners around the state. It needs to be corrected."
VSEA is thanking Northfield Rep. Anne Donahue for the writing the letter below, reminding State officials about the critical role rank-and-file state employees at the Vermont State Hospital played in the hours and days following Tropical Storm Irene.
The final Irene report Donahue refers to can be found at: bit.ly/1hTo2Ya.
Hello Ben [Rose, author of report],
I’ve looked through the new Irene Reflections report of the Irene Recovery Office, which is very nicely put together. (This letter is addressed to the persons identified on the Vermont Strong [Irene Recovery] web site.) Unfortunately, the description on page 12 of events at the Vermont State Hospital is wholly in error, and amounts to a rewriting of history. I can’t imagine what the source was. The publication of this mythical account eradicates the true story of the extraordinary response of the hospital’s staff and the contributions of community partners around the state. It needs to be corrected.
The report states that, "State Hospital officials had watched the Winooski River surge, and with help from members of the State Police and the National Guard, braved the rising water to relocate 51 hospital patients from the ground floor of the building to other state facilities."
I was present at the hospital on the day after the flood. I took the only photographs of record of the actual final day of the hospital and of the actual evacuation, and I did in-depth interviews of the VSH staff several months later. (See attached.) I can state unequivocally that there was no evacuation to other facilities prior to the flood waters having fully receded from the building the next day. The National Guard participated in neither the evacuation that occurred that next day, nor the relocation of 14 patients that did occur from the ground floor unit the night of the flood.
It was VSH staff who acted to move patients from the ground floor to the Treatment Hall on first floor of the hospital building just before water began to enter the building, and who kept patients safe there through that long night. They marked the water level as it moved up the stairwell, until it turned back just short of the first floor. "'[T]he command center said there would be absolutely no way’ to move the number of patients and staff through the flood waters to dry land with the trucks, and that ‘we would have to manage until morning,’ according to a night shift supervisor…" (Counterpoint, Winter 2011.) There was a contingency plan, with the National Guard on standby in case a relocation to another building within the complex was necessary, but it was never necessary to implement it because the water receded. "Then the water began to go down, and the evacuation to the gym was cancelled. Guard members waiting inside nearby to assist were later able to leave." (Counterpoint, Winter 2011.) There was never any relocation to another "state facility" that night. The new version of events eliminates the outstanding work of the staff, and invents a role by others.
When the evacuation did occur the next day, it was not to other state facilities (with the exception of seven patients transferred to a corrections facility). The relocation was primarily to two private hospitals (Fletcher Allen and the Brattleboro Retreat) and a private community facility (Second Spring). Referencing relocation "to other state facilities" repudiates the role these community partners and their staff played in stepping forward in an emergency.
Patients were transferred by car and bus, accompanied by VSH staff. The hospital staff commuted as far away as Brattleboro and lived in hotel space to continue to provide care for patients in the custody of the state.
This publication will become an historic documentation of these events. The inaccuracy of the account is radical enough that it calls for an immediate corrective notice to be provided to the same distribution list of all who have received a copy thus far, as well as a permanent corrective insert for any further distribution. An apology should be provided to the members of the staff of the former Vermont State Hospital for an account that so thoroughly diminishes their actions.
Rep. Anne B. Donahue