Resignation of DMH medical director expected to delay opening of Morrisville facility

Less than one month after the commissioner of Mental Health resigned, the department’s medical director is following suit.

These two blows have hit the Vermont Department of Mental Health during a vulnerable time, while it is in the middle of revamping how psychiatric care is provided in Vermont. When Tropical Storm Irene damaged the Vermont State Hospital and its 51 patients were relocated, its former medical director, Dr. Jay Batra, took on a major role in implementing an overhaul of the state’s mental health system.

The state is on the cusp of opening a slate of new psychiatric facilities, but — as Vermont Public Radio first reported — lawmakers and officials are concerned that Batra’s resignation will delay this process.

“The biggest immediate issue is it’s going to cause a delay in opening the Morrisville facility,” said Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, who co-chairs the Mental Health Oversight Committee.

The facility in question is the eight-bed Green Mountain Psychiatric Care Center at Lamoille Community Connections in Morrisville. State officials indicated on Monday that it would be open by the end of the month.

“Hopefully it won’t be a long delay,” said Donahue. “But the department won’t be able to open the Morrisville facility with a medical director who is about to leave and not have a person to take his place.”

Interim Commissioner of Mental Health Mary Moulton said that Batra submitted his official resignation Tuesday morning. He is taking a position in the private sector, although neither Moulton nor Donahue would say where. Batra wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Since Batra notified Moulton, she’s been scrambling to find a new medical director. Working with Fletcher Allen Health Care, she’s reached out to a “short list” of psychiatrists recommended by the state’s largest health care provider.

“I’ve been on the phone most of the day examining options that would be available for us to locate a medical director, even if it’s an acting medical director,” she said Tuesday evening.

The Morrisville facility, she acknowledged, is her most immediate concern, but she doesn’t expect Batra’s resignation to delay the opening of other facilities. In addition to the medical director position, she is also looking for a deputy commissioner to fill the role she vacated when she was called on to take over for Patrick Flood.

Moulton is also trying to reduce mental health wait times in emergency facilities while her department is short-staffed. To add to the interim commissioner’s heavy workload, Gov. Peter Shumlin has said Moulton would help him conduct a nationwide search for a new commissioner.

“For us, the timing is not optimal,” said Moulton. “It’s definitely a blow that Jay is leaving. I have to admit, we’re feeling a sense of loss.”

Andrew Stein

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