Psychiatric facility opens its doors while other facilities are in their early stages.

State officials in Vermont have opened a new locked residential facility in Essex to accommodate several Vermonters with complex mental health needs. The new 16-bed River Valley Therapeutic Residence is located on the site of a former state juvenile detention center and is part of the state’s effort to rebuild safe mental health options following the closure of hospitals. The goal of the project is to provide comprehensive mental health care to Vermonters on their terms, when and where they need it.

In addition to the new facility, the state is planning to establish separate nine-bed forensic residential facilities in Berlin, a 12-bed inpatient psychiatric unit for adolescents in Bennington, and nine more residential beds, as part of its goal to create a comprehensive mental health care system.

The Vermont Hospital and Health System Association reports that the average number of people waiting in hospital emergency departments for psychiatric care has decreased in the past six months. The new residential facility in Essex is a psychiatric hospital intended for people assessed as level 1 wards or who were involuntarily admitted, and the state also plans to create a separate long-term safe haven for Vermont residents involved in the criminal justice system who have been charged with serious crimes but are deemed incompetent to stand trial or acquitted because of insanity.

Mental health activists are concerned that the new facilities may reduce the number of hospital beds for critically ill patients by more than 15%, but state officials argue that it is necessary to consider vulnerable people with mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual disabilities. The state plans to provide multiple layers of support and staffing to ensure that the youth psychiatric facility in Bennington is feasible and can accommodate Medicaid-funded patients. The state is also partnering with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to provide psychiatric staff for the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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