Monthly Archives: August 2015

Makin’ bagels with Captain Obvious

Last Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott put in a day behind the counter (and in the kitchen) at the Crazy Russian Girl Bakery in Bennington. It was the latest installment of his ongoing series of publicity stunts, which he calls the Vermont Jobs Tour.

But wait: it’s not just a cheap way to get yourself in the local birdcage liner. “I learn something on every single job,” he says. As an example, he finally figured out the difference between “T” and “t”.

Now we know how often he helps out around the kitchen at home.

While he was there, the distinguished occupier of Vermont’s Bucket of Warm Spit dispensed some deep thoughts about Bennington’s economic woes.

Scott said Bennington has some unique advantages which double as challenges, one being its proximity to New York and Massachusetts. The state as a whole must find a way to compete with New York, which has done a good job of promoting itself, and New Hampshire, which lacks a sales tax, Scott says.

“Would you like some boilerplate with your bagel, sir? We sliced it extra thin today.”

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Scott Walker, nutbucket

Strike another name from the list of viable Republican candidates for president. Because the Governor of Wisconsin just stepped up to the ledge of insanity and tossed himself into the abyss.

… Walker said on Sunday that a wall along the border between the United States and Canada is a “legitimate issue” to consider.

Oh my dear Lord. Cue the calliope music, Sister Sadie, we got a real Bozo on our hands.

I realize that the Republican campaign has produced more tomfoolery than The Collected Oeuvre of Benny Hill, but for me, this one takes the cake.

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Paid sick leave: everybody’s binky for 2016

It’s been a years-long battle to enact a paid sick leave law in Vermont. The issue came close in 2015, passing the House but failing to survive the Senate. Next year? Bet on it sailing through.

As Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck reports, top Democrats (with the consicuous exception of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, a PSL skeptic) held a news conference Wednesday at Hen of the Wood Restaurant* to announce that PSL legislation would be on top of their agenda for 2016.

*Nice work if you can get it.

The move was not at all political, no sirree. Just ask declared gubernatorial candidate, House Speaker Shap Smith:

Smith dismissed his political ambitions as a factor Wednesday. “The election has nothing to with it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Regardless, Smith will be up against other Democratic candidates who support the concept. If he’s able guide the bill into law in 2016, that success will give him a boost in a Democratic primary race where the issue is likely to resonate.

Yup.

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Fighting with both hands tied behind their backs

My pageview stats for the past several days tell a stark tale: I should stop writing about mental health, and go back to renewable energy*. So naturally, here I go with another piece about mental health. Ever the contrarian.

*Of course, if I really wanted to make clickbait, I’d probably write about nothing but Bernie Sanders.

The mental health care system has often come under attack in Vermont for mistreatment or overtreatment of patients, for alleged forced hospitalization, restraint, or medication. Indeed, the practice of psychiatry in general has few friends in the state. There’s a simple reason for this, and it has nothing to do with the quality of care.

It has everything to do with privacy.

Medical practitioners are legally bound to guard patient confidentiality. This is a very good thing, and I would not seek to change it. However, one of the unintended effects is that when a doctor or nurse or hospital is accused of harming a patient, only one side of the story is heard: the patient’s. If providers tell their story, they are breaking federal law and the ethical standards of their profession.

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Our mental health sandcastle, part 2

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

— Matthew 7:26

A few months ago I was chatting, off the record, with a former Shumlin administration functionary. The subject turned to post-Irene mental health care, on which I have been very critical of the administration. This person expressed pride in the new Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital, calling it a “showplace” and urging me to take a tour.

And perhaps I will. But here’s the thing.

Building a building is the easy part. You can usually rustle up the necessary funds, with or without auctioning the naming rights. Government money, grant funding, foundation support, private donors — all are attracted to flashy new things.

It’s a lot less flashy to operate the building once the ribbon has been cut. Management, maintenance, operating costs; attracting and maintaining quality staff and motivating them to excel; creating the systems that will ensure performance equal to the bright shiny promise of the new edifice.

Am I talking about the new state psychiatric hospital here? You betcha.

The hospital has never been fully and properly staffed. Hard work and low pay — and a dangerous work environment — have proven to be strong disincentives to recruitment, and VPCH has suffered from a high attrition rate.

I’ve been hearing background chatter about this, but recently we’ve seen two stories documenting VPCH’s troubles.

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Our mental health sandcastle, part 1

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

— Matthew 7:26

Here’s something that close observers won’t find surprising at all: fresh signs of trouble in Vermont’s mental health care system. In my next post: staffing shortages and other troubles in the system’s crown jewel, the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital. This time: Again with the Brattleboro Retreat.

The Vermont attorney general’s office is conducting a criminal investigation into the Brattleboro Retreat following a whistleblower’s complaints about alleged Medicaid fraud at the private psychiatric hospital, The Associated Press has learned.

Ruh-roh. The AP’s Dave Gram quotes AG Bill Sorrell as characterizing the probe as “not narrow in scope,” and that it goes beyond the whistleblower’s complaint into other areas.

As for that complaint:

[Former Retreat staffer Thomas] Joseph alleged a yearslong pattern of instances in which, if overcharges showed up in patient accounts, Retreat staff would not make refunds but instead would change the account to reflect a balance of zero.

If the accusations are true, the Retreat would be in deep shit with Medicaid, which (according to Gram) supplies the Retreat with roughly one-fourth of its total funding.

Yeah, that’s not an enemy you want to make.

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Vermont’s New Working Landscape

Vermonters have a long, sometimes storied, sometimes notorious, history of working on our land. In the latter category we have, among others, the sheep boom of the early 19th Century that left vast forests converted to pasture; the near-clearcutting of the entire state during the lumber (and wood construction) boom of the later 19th; the complete trashing of our waters by riverbank industries; and our modern-day violations of the Clean Water Act, caused in large part by agriculture and inadequate public water treatment.

Throughout it all, Vermont has been a working landscape with a tenuous, inconsistent relationship to the environment. Fortunately, we never found exploitable resources like coal or precious metals or oil. Also fortunately, the population has remained small enough that we’ve never been able to damage the environment beyond its incredible ability to regenerate.

But whether we were engaged in massive sheep farming, clearcut lumbering, industry, dairy farming, or shopping malls and subdivisions, the one constant is that we live in a “working landscape.” We have often celebrated that fact. And indeed, long-familiar aspects of the working landscape — even if they cause environmental degradation — are cherished parts of our way of life.

Myself, I’m looking forward to the next evolution of Vermont’s working landscape: the integration of renewable energy, the creation of a closer-to-home energy supply, the diminished dependence on fossil fuels and on massive “renewable” sources elsewhere, such as Seabrook Nuclear and the destructive hydro projects in northern Quebec.

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