Cost of state’s new community mental health system to jump $20 million next year

State patients are treated on the fourth floor of the Tyler Building on the Brattleboro Retreat campus. Photo by Randy Holhut/The Commons

State patients are treated on the fourth floor of the Tyler Building on the Brattleboro Retreat campus. Photo by Randy Holhut/The Commons

The annual cost of implementing the Legislature’s new mental health bill, Act 79, is expected to overshoot the legislators’ target by $1.15 million this year, and those expenditures are slated to go up roughly $20 million in fiscal year (FY) 2014.

Department of Mental Health officials delivered an update to the Mental Health Oversight Committee on Monday, marking the committee’s last meeting before the 2013 legislative session. A month ago officials told the committee the department would run a $1.5 million deficit on its roughly $174 million budget for FY 2013.

In 2012, the Legislature enacted Act 79 to overhaul the state’s mental health system. It sought to replace the state’s 54-bed psychiatric hospital in Waterbury, which was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene, with a community-based mental health system with regionalized facilities.

The Legislature allocated about $39.9 million for the Department of Mental Health to operate the new system in FY 2013. The department projects that running this new system will cost about $41 million this year, as facilities in areas like Morrisville, Middlesex, Rutland and Brattleboro begin to open. The totals did not include construction costs.

The $41 million projection also does not include the cost of running a new 25-bed psychiatric hospital in Berlin. The hospital, which has a $28.5 million price tag for construction, is not slated to open until January 2014.

In FY 2014, the Department of Mental Health predicts that the new community-based system will cost roughly $61.5 million.

The major annual operating cost increases stem from the $9 million needed to run the new state hospital and the roughly $3.6 million to operate facilities in Chittenden and Rutland counties. Other cost increases are spread out across the board, according to a department spreadsheet.

Legislators and officials in the Statehouse on Monday discussed the difficulty of budgeting for psychiatric care.

“Trying to pinpoint the number (of psychiatric patients) is almost impossible,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Putney. “We have no idea how many of our 620,000 residents will need inpatient or outpatient care.”

Mary Moulton, who this month is stepping into the commissioner’s seat at the Department of Mental Health, said most of the facilities won’t be operational until the spring of 2013, and that also makes planning difficult.

“We don’t have a full system built, and without the full system built we don’t really have a clear number right now as to what the need is,” she said.

The department updated lawmakers on the status of community mental health projects. Here is a brief rundown:

• A 14-bed acute-care facility at the Brattleboro Retreat is on track to be complete in February.

• The opening day for a six-bed acute-care unit at Rutland Regional Medical Center has been pushed back to May 2013. In October, at the committee’s last meeting, the department said the project would be completed by early to mid March.

The state began building a seven-bed secure residential facility in Middlesex last week, and state officials expect to complete construction in mid January. The facility is scheduled to open in early spring.

• The eight-bed Green Mountain Psychiatric Care Center at Lamoille Community Connections in Morrisville is slated for completion this week. The temporary acute-care unit was supposed to open in mid-November as of the last committee meeting, and it is now scheduled to open in the near future.

• The eight-bed “Intensive Residential Recovery” facility in Westford is slated to open in January or February 2013. It has already received a certificate of approval from the department. After Westford is up and running, the Second Spring Residential Home in Williamstown will reduce its beds from 22 to 14.

• The state is hoping to break ground on the 25-bed hospital in Berlin this month. But first, it must address development issues like access, water supply and traffic flow before the town’s Development Review Board will issue the state a permit.

Andrew Stein

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