Earlier this week, VTDigger ran a story that explored the opposition to a proposed replacement for the “temporary” psychiatric treatment center in Middlesex. You know, the one that opened eight years ago and is entirely inadequate?
The story quoted people opposed to the replacement plan because it would be “too institutional.” The story didn’t quote anyone who favors the plan, aside from an official of the Department of Mental Health.
And the article framed those opposing the plan as if they represented the entire spectrum of psychiatric care. And used the language of opponents as if it was objective.
Before I go on, I must say that VTDigger is a fine organization that provides an invaluable service in our age of diminished traditional media. I’m a financial supporter. The vast majority of its coverage is thorough and fair. But when it falls short, I will point out the failure.
The trouble begins in the third paragraph, which says the plan “has sparked an outcry from mental health providers and advocates.”
The phrase “mental health providers” is very broad. It can include social workers, nurses, technicians, therapists with a variety of degrees, psychologists and psychiatrists. The article does not quote any psychologists or psychiatrists — the latter being the only mental health providers with a medical degree and specialized postgraduate training.
Those quoted include a former patient at the defunct Waterbury State Hospital, “a psychiatric survivor and mental health worker,” and a self-described psychotherapist whose training is in dance and movement therapy.
Congratulations to the Scott administration for finally making a long-overdue commitment to the state’s mental health system. Its FY22 capital budget includes $11.6 million to build a replacement to the rattletrap pictured above. That, in all its prefab glory, is the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence, which houses people who are transitioning from psychiatric hospitalization to independent living.
The MTCR was built in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, which flooded the old state psychiatric hospital in Waterbury. It was thrown up quickly using a pair of modular units, and opened in 2013 as a stopgap. Its time has come and gone.
It’s also too small for demand. Its seven beds are almost always full. The new digs would have 16 beds. The idea is that a larger step-down facility would allow more patients to be discharged from hospitals sooner, freeing up those beds and (hopefully) eliminating the constant issue of severely ill patients being parked in emergency rooms for lack of psychiatric beds.
This all sends me down Memory Lane. I’ve been following the state’s woeful efforts to rebuild the system since 2011. In the wake of Irene, the Shumlin administration announced plans to craft a new, much more community-oriented system. Such a system would theoretically require fewer inpatient beds because more people would get treatment sooner, before they got really sick.
Shumlin’s original plan for a new psychiatric hospital called for 16 beds. At the same time, embarrassingly, the then-medical director for the mental health department Dr. Jay Batra was saying the new hospital should be at least as large as Waterbury’s 50-plus beds.
At the time, administration officials pooh-poohed Batra.