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Changes in Mental Health Care Landscape Could Further Stress Vermont's System

Finding the capacity to care for acute mental health cases in Vermont has been a challenge in recent years, especially since Tropical Storm Irene shut down the state mental hospital. 

That challenge may be about to get even more difficult.

Late last week, Vermont's Department of Mental Health announced that two bordering mental health facilities — one in New Hampshire, one in New York — were closing some of their psychiatric units. In fact, the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, N.Y., is admitting a limited number of patients to its child and adolescent mental health unit, but it is not closing the unit entirely, according to CVPH representative Chris Blake.

CVPH is no longer accepting patients age 6 to 11 until it hires another doctor, Blake said.

Mental Health Commissioner Frank Reed spoke with VPR about the impact the changes could have on Vermonters.

According to Reed, some patients may need to look elsewhere for their closest available facility.

“We have a total of 188 adult inpatient psychiatric beds in the state," Reed says. "For children, there's a total of 33 inpatient beds and those are all located at the Brattleboro Retreat."

As VPR has reported, an inspection at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital found the staff violated the rights of mental health patients who were waiting for an available bed in a psychiatric hospital.

"Prior to the closure of the Vermont State Hospital, people were triaged in emergency rooms, would wait in emergency rooms until hospital beds became available, but certainly not [for] the duration that we had when the hospital first closed."

“Over the course of the last two years of tracking, we have significantly improved the number of people that are actually waiting in the hospitals, as well as how long they're waiting in hospitals,” Reed added.

Reed says “it’s a delicate balance” to make enough mental health beds available in Vermont, but “the spectrum of community services can meet the need.”

Correction, 6/7/16, 2:30 pm: An earlier version of this story quoted the Vermont Department of Mental Health announcing that the child and adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit at the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital had closed. This is incorrect.

According toCVPHrepresentative Chris Blake, the hospital decided May6thto stop admitting to the child and adolescent mental health unit. On May20th, the hospital decided it could  admit up to five patients, age 12 to 17.

CVPHis no longer admitting patients age 6 to 11, as it is looking to hire another doctor.

This story has been updated to reflect these corrections.

Copyright 2016 Vermont Public Radio

Alex is VPR's local All Things Considered host. He comes to Vermont from WBEZ-FM in Chicago, where he spent nearly five years, most recently as a political reporter. He's covered everything from federal corruption trials, to Illinois' worst-in-the-nation public pension crisis, to the personalities who voice campaign attack ads. He has a particular interest in municipal finance, LGBTQ rights and gun rights.
Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.

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