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State Seeks To Delay, Again, Shuttering Of Temporary Psych Facility In Middlesex

A temporary psychiatric facility in Middlesex was originally supposed to close down at the beginning of this year, but administration officials are now asking town leaders to let it stay there until 2020.

The seven-bed facility opened after Tropical Storm Irene flooded the state’s only psychiatric hospital in Waterbury, and it was meant to be a stopgap, pending construction of more permanent facilities.

But Commissioner of Mental Health Frank Reed says the Legislature has since asked his department to consider expanding the size and scope of the permanent secure residential facility that will replace the temporary one in Middlesex. Reed says lawmakers have also asked the department to evaluate the prospect of a partnering on the project with a private company.

“So in that context, it has slowed the process somewhat in order to do these different kinds of evaluations that have been requested,” Reed says.

Reed says the department is eying a 16-bed facility, which would have the capacity to take in mentally ill inmates who don’t belong in prison but do need secure residential care. Getting mentally ill offenders out of prison settings that often only exacerbate their conditions has become a new priority for many lawmakers.

AJ Rubin, the supervising attorney at Disability Rights Vermont, says it’s great that lawmakers and administration officials want to expand secure residential capacity. He says however that the situation in Vermont’s prisons warrants more urgency on the part of policymakers.

“If they’re going to delay that 16-bed facility for several years, what that’s going to mean is there are going to be people who are in corrections without getting real intense residential treatment that would help them in the future,” Rubin says.

Reed says a previous proposal for a 14-bed facility would have cost $12 million to build, and $4 million to $5 million annually in operating costs. He says a forthcoming request for proposals will shed light on cost projections for the plans.

Reed says it’s unclear still where the new facility will be located.

The Middlesex Selectboard meets Tuesday evening to consider the state’s request for an extension. It isn’t the first time the state has sought to delay closure of the facility, which was originally slated to shutter on Jan. 1, 2016.

The state previously asked Middlesex officials to allow the facility to remain open until 2018, a request the selectboard granted in 2013.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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