NEWPORT CITY – A new state hospital is on the minds of many Vermont lawmakers. Both Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Orleans/Essex) and Rep. Lynn Batchelor covered the topic in detail during yesterday’s Legislative Breakfast held at the Eastside Restaurant.
Last year floodwaters caused extensive damage to the Vermont State Hospital as well as other buildings at the state complex in Waterbury. Legislators now have the task of finding replacement facilities.
Vermont has two pots of FEMA money to use. The first is for relocation of the facility and the second is for the building as long as it’s on a different site than the one that was flooded.
“No matter how nice they made it, there could be another flood and everything would have gone back down the drain,” said Batchelor.
At first, Gov. Peter Shumlin wanted a 54-bed facility, but then decreased it to 16 beds with the ability to expand. Batchelor’s committee, after interviewing medical professionals and patients' families, decided the facility needs at least 25 beds. The committee sent the recommendation to the senate.
The state still has the Brattleboro Retreat, Rutland Regional Medical Center and Fletcher Allen Medical Center, but those facilities come with a price. The Rutland Regional Hospital and the Brattleboro Retreat will receive approximately $500,000 per patient per year while Fletcher Allen Healthcare is seeking $624,000 per patient per year.
Batchelor is against putting mental healthcare patients in prison.
“The prison is not a good place to put our people who are most vulnerable,” said Batchelor, who works in the prison system when not in Montpelier.
Not everyone who requires mental health care are criminally insane, said Illuzzi, who added some individuals sustained trauma or were born with serious mental disabilities.
Having more than one facility brings concerns about a lack of sufficient support services for mental health patients.
Illuzzi said it’s better to have a 50-bed facility in central Vermont or Chittenden County.
“Under federal law, Vermont would be eligible for Medicaid reimbursement, which is one of the big pieces of the puzzle,” said Illuzzi. “The feds will pay if it is not a stand-alone facility of greater than 16 beds. If we build a 50-bed facility under the license of either Central Vermont Medical Center or Fletcher Allen, the federal money will continue to flow.”
A conference committee, made up of three members from each side of the floor, is looking at the issue.
Batchelor and Illuzzi also spoke about a single payer healthcare system.
Some medical professionals said Vermont would need a million people on the program in order to see the benefits and savings. Vermont’s population is 630,000.
Batchelor pointed out that some employers already have their own insurance providers that haven’t gone away. Some specialists in the Morrisville area have their licenses activated in other states because they are concerned about the future. There is not much of a reason for someone to stay unless they enjoy winter sports, said Batchelor.
The earliest a single payer system would start is 2017.