Retreat needs major overhaul if it is to be saved

BRATTLEBORO — The news of the Brattleboro Retreat's financial situation is deeply concerning, but not a surprise to those of us who work (or worked) there.

I was a nurse there for 10 years before I felt compelled to resign due to changes to the patient care environment enacted by the current administration. I was relieved when Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith finally called them out and brought some of the troubles into the light. But some issues still remain in the shadows.

Retreat CEO Lewis Josephson cites low census as one of the primary issues causing financial difficulties. As Secretary Smith pointed out, this is specific to the Retreat. I can tell you from personal experience that census is down because patients do not want to go to the Retreat. In my last year at the Retreat I heard more and more patients saying, “When I was in the emergency room I begged them to send me anywhere but here; they sent me here anyway.”

Not all of them get sent there anyway; more and more are successfully going elsewhere. Now that I am working at another psychiatric facility, I hear more of the same, from patients relieved to have not gone to the Retreat.

The reasons for this are changes to the patient environment which I feel are getting perilously close to inhumane.

The bathrooms are all locked, and patients must ask a staff person to open the door so that they can use one. Access to food has been restricted as much as possible. On some floors, that means a patient must ask a staff person for a simple drink of water.

Shower curtains were removed from all the bathrooms that had them, and no other form of privacy was offered in their place. As one patient noted, “This is worse than jail.”

There is no excuse for this form of treatment, and it is not “industry standard,” as Chief Nursing Officer Meghan Baston likes to state.

Dr. Josephson points to the nursing shortage as the reason for needing to hire contract, or “travel,” nurses. The lack of staff at the Retreat is a direct result of this administration. Many staff who had been there for decades appeared to be targeted and were disciplined for minor or imaginary infractions until they gave in and quit.

The overall attitude of this administration toward all direct patient care staff, be they doctors, social workers, nurses, or other support staff, appears to be one of disdain and disrespect or outright aggression. Staff are leaving in droves. This past year, I believe about 150 direct-care staff left the Retreat. The number of contract workers has steadily increased, each of which costs two to three times as much as a regular staff worker.

I hope an investigation will be carried out. As part of it I hope that the few remaining staff will be asked for their opinions. I hope that patients and patient advocates will asked their opinions.

The administration and the board of the Retreat are clearly incompetent, and the top-heavy, overpaid administration there needs a major overhaul if the Retreat is to be saved.

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