Wednesday June 19, 2013

DAVE GRAM

Associated Press

MIDDLESEX -- Gov. Peter Shumlin, legislators and other officials toured Vermont’s newest state psychiatric facility Tuesday, a day before the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence was set to receive its first two patients.

"This is an excellent temporary facility that’s going to help us through this crisis created by (Tropical Storm) Irene," Shumlin said during the tour.

The Middlesex facility is one of several puzzle pieces the state has been putting together in the nearly two years since the August 2011 storm caused the Winooski River to flood the now-closed Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.

That 54-bed hospital is to be replaced with several other smaller facilities: a 25-bed hospital to open in Berlin in the spring of next year, 14 beds in a wing now devoted to state patients at the private Brattleboro Retreat psychiatric hospital, six beds at the Rutland Regional Medical Center and greater use of community placements for people deemed suited for them.

The seven beds in Middlesex will be for people whose mental health has improved so that they no longer need the most acute level of care, but who are deemed not ready to move outside a locked facility. Officials said it would be the first facility of its kind in Vermont and rare in the country.


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The Middlesex TCR is designed to be temporary -- it was built on two 53-foot trailers in a T-shaped configuration by Mobile Medical International Corp., a St. Johnsbury-based firm that specializes in building military and other temporary hospital facilities around the world.

The facility is surrounded by chain-link fences covered in black material that is designed to provide privacy for residents, said Frank Reed, the interim mental health commissioner. It is next to the Vermont State Police barracks that serves central Vermont.

It opened about five months after its originally scheduled opening date, and the $2 million cost was about $500,000 above original projections, officials said.

Reed said there were several changes ordered by the state as the facility was being designed and built that cause the delay and higher cost.

Officials said the state has an agreement with the town of Middlesex under which the facility is to close by 2018, but Reed said the state’s response to Irene is still evolving and there could be a request later to extend that deadline.

One of those on the tour was Julie Tessler, executive director of a statewide group that represents regional mental health service providers. "It’s very nice on the inside," she said. "We don’t have enough in-patient beds, but this will help that."

Dr. Ruth Kennedy Grant, of Waltham, whose 28-year-old son grapples with mental illness and who has become active in mental health issues in the state in recent years, agreed that more beds were needed in Vermont’s mental health system. Her son spent four days in the emergency room at Central Vermont Hospital this month before another place was found for him, she said.