Workers at the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence in June 2013
A “temporary” psychiatric facility in Middlesex has outstayed its welcome, according to town officials, who declined the state’s request to stay until 2020.
Selectboard chair Peter Hood said the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence hasn’t caused problems for the town, but the board is tired of the state “diddling around.”
“We just said, ‘The door is open. Come back when you have a plan.’ They haven’t been back yet,” Hood said in an interview last week.
The facility opened in June 2013 as a stopgap for psychiatric patients displaced from the Vermont State Hospital after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The state signed an initial agreement with the Middlesex selectboard to close the seven-bed locked facility no later than January 2016.
The state has always intended to replace the facility with a permanent 14-bed facility in a different location, but there are still no concrete plans.
At the state’s request, the selectboard agreed to an extension that would keep the facility in Middlesex until 2018.
But that’s it. Last March, the Department of Mental Health asked the selectboard for another extension — until 2020 — and the board said no.
Hood said he would welcome a permanent facility but he said the state has determined the site doesn’t have the capacity. Instead, Hood expects the state will continue to operate the temporary facility in Middlesex past 2018 — in violation of the agreement. It’s unclear what legal recourse the town might have. Even if it could sue the state, the town does not have the resources to do so, according to Hood. The dispute came to light last Friday, when former Department of Mental Health commissioner Frank Reed testified in front of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee. Reed, who now serves as the department’s director of operations, planning and development, recapped the research and planning his department hasdone to get a new facility built. But fundamental questions remain unanswered, including where to build and whom it will house. Reed said DMH is looking to the legislature for more guidance.
He downplayed the dispute with the town, telling lawmakers that the DMH did not get a definitive response from the selectboard. Asked further questions after the hearing, Reed referred Seven Days to Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille.
“I think that we’ve got to figure that out and maybe talk with the town again and see if that really is the case and see what other options we have,” said Gobeille, who became secretary just this month.
Hood said that he thinks “the real problem is [building a new facility] is hideously expensive.”
Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield), a member of the House Committee on Health Care and a longtime mental health advocate, confirmed that finding funding is a challenge standing in the way of a new building. But she also said lawmakers need more information from DMH — meaning each entity is asking for answers from the other.
“The legislature isn’t being presented with a clear presentation on the scope and nature of the problem and proposed solutions so that’s a gap that the new administration has to take on,” Donahue said.
She noted that the delay indirectly affects people who need inpatient mental health care, some of whom ending up waiting for days in hospital emergency rooms until beds open up. The situation is also less than ideal for patients at the Middlesex unit.
“We have people who are staying there for months and months and months and you get better accommodations in a correctional facility. It’s two mobile homes with a little postage stamp exercise yard,” Donahue said.