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Brattleboro Retreat Asks State To Support Renovation Of Adolescent Unit

An overhead sign that says Brattleboro retreat looking into a grassy area with park benches at entrance.
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File
Following a $5.3 million upgrade to the Brattleboro Retreat's adult unit, the psychiatric hospital is now seeking additional state funding for its adolescent unit.

The Brattleboro Retreat is asking the state to support a renovation of the hospital's adolescent unit.

The Retreat has taken on a larger role in the state's decentralized mental health care system, and the hospital will be asking for an additional investment as lawmakers put together next year's budget.

After the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury closed, the state invested in projects in Berlin, Rutland and Brattleboro to better serve Vermonters with the most acute mental health needs.

Tropical Storm Irene forced the closure of the Waterbury hospital and FEMA helped pay for the $5.3 million renovation of the adult intensive unit at the Retreat, which opened in 2013.

Peter Albert, senior vice president for government relations at the Retreat, says it's now time to upgrade and modernize Tyler 3, the Retreat's 22-bed adolescent unit.

"It's important to understand that the Retreat is the hospital for children and adolescents in Vermont who have the most severe mental health issues," Albert says. "There's no other hospital facility that serves that population."

Gov. Peter Shumlin's spokesman declined to talk about the Retreat's request and said the governor was working on his budget and would not release details until he delivered his budget request to the Legislature.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid last week released the Retreat from a Systems Improvement Agreement the psychiatric hospital has been under since October 2014.

The Retreat signed the agreement following a number of incidents at the hospital, including at least two suicide attempts, an altercation between a patient and staff member and an inspection that found deficiencies in safety protocol.

"It's important to understand that the Retreat is the hospital for children and adolescents in Vermont who have the most severe mental health issues. There's no other hospital facility that serves that population." - Peter Albert, Retreat senior vice president of government relations

Albert says the Retreat hired a consultant to develop a plan to satisfy federal regulators, and upgrading the adolescent unit was one of the steps identified to improve care and safety.

"As a hospital we're not able to afford the extensive renovations on our own, so we've submitted a proposal to the state to ask for some assistance," says Albert. "Because the bottom line is, we've got to recognize that adolescents deserve and need the same support and resources we've recently invested in the adult population."

Following the signing of the Systems Improvement Agreement, the Retreat has successfully designed and implemented performance improvement measures related to patient rights, the hospital’s governing body, physical environment and quality assurance programs, a spokesman said.

Credit Joseph St. Pierre / Brattleboro Retreat
Brattleboro Retreat
The newly-renovated $5.3 million adult intensive care unit at the Brattleboro Retreat.

Federal and state inspectors conducted an unannounced survey in November and found the Retreat to be in compliance with all Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Conditions of Participation.

Along with being released from the Systems Improvement Agreement, federal regulators last week also restored the hospital's "deemed status," which ensures that the Retreat will continue receiving Medicaid assistance.

J. William Robertson, associate regional administrator for the Northeast Regional CMS office, said in a letter that federal regulators were restoring the Retreat's status "based on the impressive progress and strides the hospital has made over the past year."

Albert says says it's too early in the process to estimate costs, but he says Retreat officials will work with lawmakers and members of the administration next year to develop a plan, which might include a renovation, or building a new facility for adolescents.

Albert says the Retreat is not looking to add beds to the unit at this time.

Update 2:30 p.m. ?This story has been updated with a comment from Gov. Shumlin's spokesman.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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