“Outside of possibly staffing a new 15-bed facility, there is really no mention in the plan of what will happen to a majority of hundreds of existing VSH caregivers,” said [VSEA Director Mark] Mitchell. “And the [VSH] caregivers believe—as does VSEA—that they are really the only Vermonters with the specific training and experience needed to provide the highest level of therapeutic care to these particular patients with the most severely acute mental health diagnoses in the state."
Vermont State Employees’ Association And Its Vermont State Hospital Caregivers Question Level Of Patient Care Under Governor’s Announced Plan. VSEA Also Seeks To Verify Whether Or Not The Shumlin Administration’s State Hospital Plan Meets Conditions Of State’s Privatization Statute.
In a December 8 letter to Secretary of the Administration Jeb Spaulding, Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) General Counsel Michael Casey expresses the union’s concern that the Shumlin Admininstration “may be in the process of negotiating long-term privatization contracts [to replace services historically provided at the Vermont State Hospital] without adhering to the requirements set forth in Title 3, Chapter 14 of the Vermont Statutes.”
Casey lays out the primary mandate of the privatization statute in his letter, reminding Spaulding that “The State has not provided any analysis to demonstrate that entering into long-term contracts with private institutions will ultimately save the taxpayers money, as required under 3 V.S.A. §343.”
Newly hired VSEA Director Mark Mitchell seconds Casey’s concerns about compliance with the statute, and he adds that Shumlin Administration’s plan largely ignores the vital role current VSH caregivers play in caring for Vermont’s most vulnerable citizens who are suffering with severe mental illness.
“Outside of possibly staffing a new 15-bed facility, there is really no mention in the plan of what will happen to a majority of hundreds of existing VSH caregivers,” said Mitchell. “And the caregivers believe—as does VSEA—that they are really the only Vermonters with the specific training and experience needed to provide the highest level of therapeutic care to these particular patients with the most severely acute mental health diagnoses in the state. In fact, their feelings have been confirmed by the number of nurses/staff working at these interim private facilities who have called VSEA—and testified publicly—with their concerns about the proper care for this population.” He adds, “We’re also hearing from VSH caregivers that they are very afraid the State’s plan could degrade the high quality of care that—up until Irene—had been provided at the VSH.”
In his letter, Casey acknowledges the challenges presented to the State’s mental health system as a result of Tropical Storm Irene, but he urges the Shumlin Administration not to use the disaster as a way to hastily implement a long-term plan to privatize Vermont’s mental health care system.
“To the extent that the Administration has entered into agreements with private entities, such contracts must comply with the law, and be of short duration to address the immediate need to provide temporary patient care,” writes Casey. “Until the Legislature has determined the viability of a refurbished or new Vermont State Hospital, no long-term contracts should be entered into providing for patient care, and any contracts must comply with 3 V.S.A. §343.”
Casey ends by asking the State for written notice of its compliance with the statute and for copies of any and all contracts the State has entered into that provide services “similar to those previously provided by the Vermont State Hospital.”
Mitchell weighed in on the apparent privatization of big chunks the State Hospital’s historic services, saying, “Given the plan for the State Hospital’s future that the Governor laid out yesterday, we think VSEA’s privatization statute concerns and questions are even more valid today than they were last week. In addition to our significant concerns about patient care, there’s a real potential that dozens of experienced Vermont caregivers will lose their jobs if the State’s plan moves forward unchecked, which is all the more reason for VSEA to vigorously pursue that the statute has been—or is being—followed.”