May 1st, 2014

Psychiatric hospital still slated to open this summer

When the new state mental health hospital, Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital, comes on line in Berlin, Vermont, in July, it will have all the bells and whistles. With private rooms and bathrooms, separate wings that will house their own dining and meeting areas, advanced acoustical design to reduce noise, a greenhouse, garden and natural lighting throughout, the hospital has been designed using all of the most current theories for patient treatment in an environment aimed at reducing stress and supporting recovery.

“This hospital is very modern in terms of the design that went into it,” says Jeff Rothenberg, LCMHC, who was recently named chief executive officer at the new hospital. “This is a new facility designed to honor and respect the people who need mental health care.”

The hospital will also be enhanced by local artists, funded by a state program created to put art into public spaces, who will bring in granite from a local quarry and create animal-themed works that will also be functional, like dogs and other animals frolicking around benches or a touch-friendly group of otters.

With the devastation of the Vermont State Hospital in 2011 from the flooding of Hurricane Irene, the entire mental health system in the state had been upended. Emergency bedding was found throughout the state, a temporary eight-bed state hospital was opened in Morrisville and a drive to re-write the way mental health care was delivered was given a major boost.

The new hospital, which will provide 25 acute-care beds, will replace the Berlin facility and about 40 of the staff will be brought over from that location. In addition, new hiring has been going on this spring with most of the 99 new positions filled.

“The hiring plan has been ambitious,” says Rothenberg. “We have more than enough qualified candidates except for the nursing portion. We have contracted with companies that provide traveling nurses in the meantime.”

While the process is on-track for a summer opening, it has not been entirely smooth. State legislators were surprised and disappointed to find that certain pieces of the facility were not as well prepared. The facility’s proposed electronic medical record system ran into a glitch when state officials discovered that the company they had been contracting with at the former state hospital was not going to have a complete system ready.

The contract for the system has since been put out through an RFP, or request for proposals, to solicit for bids on the project.

Another issue for the hospital came up when the DMH discovered that no one had put aside funds for soft materials, including mattresses, sheets, and chairs. An expense of nearly $500,000, the money has been re-assigned from capital funds that had been allocated for the hospital project. This money will be used to qualify for federal matching funds, bringing the total to nearly $1 million.

“There was an underestimation of what it was going to take to supply the new facility,” says Frank Reed, deputy commissioner for the Vermont Department of Mental Health. “The general funding money being moved over did allow for federal matching so the total could be grossed up to a higher amount.”

Even with these hiccups, the new facility should be a crowning jewel in the state’s mental health care system. While last-minute changes often delay projects, currently things are running to schedule.

“The fine tuning in terms of preparing for occupancy, we could slow down there in order to be ready but other than that, we should be on time for the opening,” says Reed.

By Catherine Robertson Souter

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