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We in Bennington County are facing some hard realities and, at the same time, having the kinds of honest conversations needed to keep our communities safe and healthy.

It appears that finally the town of Bennington will be getting a so-called ‘hub’ – a comprehensive addiction treatment facility that includes methadone and buprenorphorine treatment, as well as other services vital to keeping our friends, families and neighbors sober and drug-free. Those include counseling services, case management, crisis intervention, referrals, assessments, and care coordination.

The Banner has joined advocates in this community for years in calling for a local treatment center. County residents who sincerely want to beat addiction have been forced to drive to Rutland, Brattleboro or elsewhere to receive these extensive services. And keep in mind, folks starting recovery might not have the most reliable transportation, can often least afford to take extensive time off jobs to maintain their programs, and for obvious reasons probably aren’t in the best mental space to make regular long treks for treatment.

Yet, their success in recovery is critical to all of us – family members, schools, businesses, hospitals, public safety, and more.

There is a lot of work to do before the treatment center becomes a reality. There will be public conversations, planning to ensure the site at 120 Depot St. is appropriate and workable, collaborative discussions with the owners, the town and local partner groups, and much more.

We can also review the operations of new owner Texas-based BayMark Health Services, which currently operates treatment facilities in St. Johnsbury, Newport, Berlin and St. Albans through a subsidiary, BAART Behavioral Health Services Inc., or BAART Programs. There’s a track record to help us ensure a Bennington facility will be well-run.

In our opinion, this can’t happen fast enough.

At the same time, we learned this week that officials at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center are working with the Scott administration to see if a youth psychiatric unit could be built at the Bennington hospital.

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The need is proven. The Brattleboro Retreat is currently the only inpatient facility for young people suffering from serious mental health issues – kids and teens who end up in emergency rooms because of a lack of beds and services.

The state issued a Request for Proposals statewide for hospitals willing to consider this challenge, and while it might have been preferable from a statewide perspective to have one located in central or northern Vermont (two in southern Vermont is great for us, but maybe not for all the young people across the state who are in need of services), only SVMC remains serious in exploring this possibility.

There is a long path to travel before any opening of a youth psychiatric unit in Bennington. SVMC is conducting a feasibility study that will look at costs, staffing issues – a huge challenge, reimbursement rates from the state for services, and a host of other challenges.

On a positive note, Gov. Phil Scott recognizes the mental health crisis that is impacting our communities, including our young people. He has earmarked $9.25 million toward this project, which requires legislative approval. And while the need for mental health services spans all ages, helping the young now should reduce the needs down the road as they age.

We appreciate SVMC stepping up to the plate to seriously consider meeting this need in our community and statewide. We also recognize the roadblocks to ensuring this happens. This is tough stuff; there’s a reason only one hospital has stepped forward.

But here’s our hope: The Scott administration provides the funding to make this project financially doable; the feasibility study finds only issues that can be addressed; the hospital board and state regulators fast-track approval of a sound, well thought-out proposal; and we all stop passing the buck when it comes to this vulnerable group of young Vermonters who need help.

We are proud of our community for facing the reality of actual challenges that threaten our quality of life – in this case substance abuse and addiction, and a lack of mental health services – and join those who believe the buck stops here.


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