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Brattleboro Retreat opens new $5.3 million unit

BRATTLEBORO—In a star-studded — albeit by Vermont standards — ribbon-cutting ceremony, the Brattleboro Retreat unveiled the newly renovated Tyler 4 unit designated for state psychiatric patients.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, Mental Health Commissioner Mary Moulton, legislators, state and town officials, advocates, press, and Retreat employees crowded the 14-bed unit on Monday afternoon.

Retreat President and CEO Dr. Rob Simpson opened his remarks by reminding the audience that many of them had loved ones who have experienced mental illness and the stigma, ignorance, and pain that often accompanied it.

Treatment systems have also mirrored patients’ “sense of imperfection,” he said, noting that everyone has the right to overcome the stigma often attached to mental illness.

Simpson recounted the events of August 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene swamped the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury. The Retreat moved patients to other units to provide room for 16 Vermont State Hospital patients and accompanying staff.

In the midst of the changes at the Retreat, the state passed H.63, a statute aimed at reforming the mental health system and developing new treatment opportunities, said Simpson.

The hospital “rose to the challenge” and met all the requirements to treat state patients with the Tyler 4 renovation, said Simpson.

The Retreat wishes to be “an innovative” hospital, he added.

Shumlin said that the day marked an “extraordinary achievement of a long-term goal” for the Retreat, which has remained a partner throughout the crisis of Irene and whose existence benefits Vermont.

The governor added that the state has started a long journey. The state patients — people who deserve a quality environment and quality of care — have lacked a quality facility, he said.

Like those who live with diabetes, heart disease, and other physical medical conditions, patients with mental illnesses expect to receive quality treatment close to home, Shumlin said.

The Vermont State Hospital was de-certified a decade ago by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) because of poor facilities. As a result, CMS would not reimburse the state for services at the VSH to the tune of about $10 million to $12 million in lost revenue, said Shumlin.

Hospitals in Rutland and Berlin will also host state patients. Those classified as Level One, will be treated on Tyler 4, require the highest level of care.

Shumlin told the crowd that the Retreat will likely experience greater scrutiny now that the longtime private non-profit hospital will operate in a more public arena. Sometimes the scrutiny will feel unfair, but the work this hospital does is “extraordinary,” the governor said.

“We’re with you all the way,” he said, adding that soon, Vermont will have the best delivery of mental health services in the country.

In a separate interview, Shumlin said the opening of Tyler 4 “represents Brattleboro and Windham County becoming a critical part of Vermont’s mental-health delivery system.”

The next step, he said, will be to “deliver on the promise” of a quality, community-based care treatment system that will lower the need for acute care.

As with other diseases, Shumlin said, early diagnosis and treatment can significantly drop the need for critical care later.

State Rep. John Moran, D-Wardsboro, a substance abuse counselor who has worked for the Retreat, expressed his ongoing concerns about staff safety at the opening. Moran has introduced legislation, currently in committee, to address staff safety.

“The renovation of Tyler-4 unit appears to be a move in the right direction for staff and patient safety at the Brattleboro Retreat,” Moran said.

“However, my concerns continue, especially with potentially assaultive patients housed on less-secure units at the Retreat,” he continued.

“I will continue to pursue legislation that mandates equal reporting of staff and patient injuries within our mental health system,” Moran said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #198 (Wednesday, April 10, 2013).

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