May 1st, 2016

Vermont examining its residential facility needs

A report recently presented to the Vermont state legislature outlines preliminary recommendations related to the development of a new secure residential facility to address the needs of individuals with mental illness.

Frank Reed, commissioner, Department of Mental Health, Agency of Human Services (AHS), prepared the “Report on Secure Residential Facility: Plan for Siting and Design” in accordance with “Act No. 26: An Act Relating to Capital Construction and State Bonding,” in which the Secretary of Human Services was tasked with conducting an examination of the needs of the AHS.

The report considered siting and designing of a secure residential facility, analyzing its operating costs such as staffing, size of the facility, the quality of care supported by the structure and the broadest options available for the facility’s management and ownership.

Ever since Tropical Storm Irene forced the closure of the 50-plus bed Vermont State Hospital in 2011, Vermont has faced a decrease in the number of beds for people struggling with acute mental illness.

Twenty-five beds were created in 2014 with the opening of the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin. A newly developed facility as outlined in the preliminary recommendations of the recent report would add up to 16 additional beds.

AHS met with various state and community partners in the preceding months with regard to potential populations to be served, compatibility of programming potentials, siting potentials and funding mechanisms to be considered.

Additionally, last fall, the department issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from interested parties who wished to provide information, recommendations and/or conceptual proposals regarding the planning, development, operations and/or management of the new facility.

“We got a number of respondents (to the RFI),” Reed said. “Two of which were architectural firms; four were providers that were interested in some aspect of service delivery depending on the population that would be served; and one was a property management firm interested in being part of the process.”

The next step is for a Request for Proposals (RFP) to be developed, Reed said. The RFP would identify major programmatic components, further exploration of public-private partnership efficiencies and requirements for more detailed cost projections in order to determine overall cost benefits for both quality and service delivery.

The preliminary report recommends that the state Fiscal Year 2018 budget development should then include requests for identified resources that will be necessary to initiate Certificate of Need or Certificate of Approval requirements and the project development and management coordination necessary to oversee the establishment of the project.

Among those who submitted information for the RFI was Northeast Kingdom Human Services. Executive Director D.W. Bouchard said the non-profit agency would like to partner with the state to build a 16-bed mental health care facility in Essex County.

Northeast Kingdom Human Services is a Designated Agency in Vermont. The DMH designates one Designated Agency in each geographic region to provide services and monitor outcomes within their region.

“We are the only Designated Agency in the Northeast Kingdom,” which comprises three northeastern counties, Bouchard said. Bouchard said the agency has been in existence for more than 50 years and employs more than 500 people.

Bouchard said his agency has done a great deal of analysis in the past several years and created a business plan for a new facility. “We knew if we were to create something, that we wanted to create an economic engine,” he said, noting that the northeastern region has suffered from a dearth of jobs for a long time. “In our first phase, we would hire over 60 people.”

Bouchard said his agency has looked at several different sites within the county, including a 700-acre privately owned piece of land. “We know that we could create a recovery-based model for secured residential, on a very beautiful, quaint setting that is conducive to healing,” he said.

He said he’s already had a local primary care practice and a local college express interest in the plan. “We’re really going to turn this into a real campus.”

The campus would offer a large number of opportunities for exercise or working outside, “everything kayaking and canoeing to fishing, farming, woodworking, volleyball and farming,” Bouchard said.

“Our agency has a long history of dealing with individuals with these issues. We have the beautiful setting, we have the ability to have it favorably impact the agency, but in addition to doing all of that we can also bring economic development to a very economically challenged area,” he said.

By Pamela Berard

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