Magical Thinking vs. Entrenched Racism

Big news from VTDigger:

The Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital is finally set to educate employees about diversity nearly two years after the state Human Rights Commission found discrimination against workers of color.

Seems like an awfully long time. One thing’s for sure, though: If they put that much thought into creating an anti-bias program, it must be a really good one.

The state Department of Mental Health is hiring ReGeneration Resources of Brattleboro to offer a one-time training to its 200 hospital employees on bullying and harassment, such terms as “implicit bias,” and how to report and respond to problems and “contribute to the creation and maintenance of a healthy, cohesive workplace culture.”

Oh, um. “A one-time training” meant to cover such a wide range of issues? That seems problematic. Unless the racist culture isn’t very deeply rooted?

The Human Rights Commission called for training after releasing a January 2018 report that found more than a decade of “repeated hostile, offensive and racist comments and actions” at the Berlin facility. There, one employee faced calls of “chocolate boy” and found the N-word scrawled on his car windshield, a second was told she commuted on “the welfare bus” and still others were tagged “nappy” and offered a stereotypical spread of fried chicken and watermelon.

“More than a decade,” eh? And we’re going to fix all of this with “a one-time training”?

I got two words for ya: Bull and Shit.

The actual limiting factor isn’t effectiveness — it’s money. When the Department of Mental Health put out its RFP for a training program, it put at $10,000 limit on the deal. Later, perhaps out of embarrassment or a lack of acceptable bids, the ceiling was raised to $20,000.

You get what you pay for. And all they want to pay for is “a one-tine training.”

The hospital has such a wretched record of racist abuse that, as Digger reported in 2018, an employee showed up to a previous diversity training with “fried chicken, watermelon and grape soda –- food stereotypically associated with African-Americans.”

Oh, hahaha. Big laffs.

This underscores a fundamental problem with VPCH. The hospital was built to replace the old state hospital at Waterbury, which was heavily damaged in Tropical Storm Irene. But lawmakers and the Shumlin administration, in their extremely finite wisdom, authorized only half the number of beds that were available in Waterbury. Since it opened, VPCH has been overcrowded and underfunded. Staff have been subject to abuse and even injury at the hands of patients, and security is woefully lacking. The hospital has had a LOT of trouble maintaining full staffing levels because working conditions are so terrible. It doesn’t help when an atmosphere of racism makes it difficult to retain staffers of color.

And now, the state is trying to “solve” an entrenched, widespread racist culture on the cheap.

DMH Commissioner Sarah Squirrell says the $20K is only the beginning of a longer-term effort to change the culture. We shall see. In the meantime, our only dedicated mental hospital will continue to be a decidedly unhealthy place to work.


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