Cutbacks compromise patient care at Retreat

BRATTLEBORO — I am a nurse at the Brattleboro Retreat working on the State Hospital unit, newly opened this past year due to the demise of the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury as a result of Tropical Storm Irene.

The patients that now come to us on the State Hospital unit, officially known as the Adult Intensive Unit, or AIU, often come with a history of spending much of their lives in institutional settings due to severe, ongoing mental illness. These patients also tend to come to us with horrific trauma histories that continue to affect their mental well-being and their capacity to feel safe and at ease.

The other adult inpatient units at the Retreat are also receiving some of these patients due to a lack of beds in the rest of the state. The overall adult inpatient makeup at the Retreat has changed dramatically in this past year, becoming much more acute.

The staff members who work with these patients are dedicated to improving their quality of life, and their capacity to function at their highest possible level. We choose to work with the patients that society often rejects and tries to pretend don't exist.

Mental illness is not well accepted in our society despite the fact that it likely touches almost everyone's life in one way or another. We choose to try and make a difference in these people's lives, often doing it under the inherently stressful conditions of the work. These are good people with awful illnesses and trauma histories, which can combine to make them behave in ways that are dangerous to themselves and to others.

The staffing at the Retreat has recently been dramatically cut. On Nov. 14, the therapeutic services department was eliminated on all of the units. These are the people who create and carry out the programming that provides the patients opportunities to create, and express themselves as a way to improve their mental and physical well-being.

The TS staff were always creating new and innovative programs and activities for the patients to engage in, and the patients looked forward to every activity offered.

To see a patient who was once withdrawn, anxious, and disorganized begin to be able to express himself through music or art brings joy to that patient and to all the staff who have worked with him.

To see a patient who was paranoid, agitated, and threatening become able to calm and center herself through yoga and movement is to witness a near miracle. With last week's layoffs, these opportunities no longer exist at the Brattleboro Retreat.

In addition, the inpatient chemical dependency counselors have been eliminated. To even consider treatment of patients who struggle with the dual and complex issues of mental illness and addiction without the presence of drug and alcohol addiction counselors is unthinkable.

The website for the Brattleboro Retreat states that it “offers high-quality inpatient and outpatient mental health and addiction treatment for children, adolescents and adults.”

Is that really possible without the presence of these trained professionals?

As a nurse, I am distressed at what the future of the Brattleboro Retreat looks like for our patients. I am confused and alarmed that the administration has chosen to eliminate such vital programming.

We, as a dedicated staff, express our willingness to work with the administration at the bargaining table to effect an outcome that benefits everyone involved, especially the patients as they are, and always have been, our first priority.

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