Health Care

Psych patient’s escape attempt not shared with lawmakers

State mental health officials did not inform lawmakers about the near escape of a psychiatric patient in March from a secure residential facility in Middlesex, according to several legislators.

The Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence, which abuts residences, is meant to be a temporary facility, but could remain open through 2018, pending a report to the Legislature in January about its importance to the state’s system of care for the mentally ill.

Acting Commissioner of Mental Health Frank Reed and facility director Debra Olivetti at the inside entrance to the new seven-bed secure residential mental health facility in Middlesex that is almost ready to open. Photo by Andrew Stein
Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Frank Reed and facility director Debra Olivetti at the inside entrance to the new seven-bed secure residential mental health facility in Middlesex in June 2013, just before it opened. Photo by Andrew Stein

It is the same facility where state officials are seeking to transfer Elizabeth Teague, who was found incompetent to stand trial in 1991 shooting spree.

The seven-bed facility houses people in the custody of the mental health commissioner who pose some level of danger to themselves or the public.

The Department of Mental Health did not respond to questions about the facility’s occupancy or the profile of its current residents. It also did not respond to questions about another event reported by the department as an escape.

The facility’s managers have submitted a plan of correction to the state Division of Licensing and Protection, which accepted the plan on April 1. The letter of acceptance states that there may be follow-up to ensure compliance.

On March 26, while the Legislature was in session, a patient escaped during an understaffed community outing, according to a Division of Licensing and Protection investigation report.

Police and Department of Mental Health officials were immediately notified, but despite the incident being marked as high profile and “potent” for media involvement in a list of event reports obtained by VTDigger, it appears no lawmakers were notified.

Frank Reed, the department’s deputy commissioner, said in an email Monday that he needed to “explore” the question of whether lawmakers were notified before he could “adequately” respond.

Reed did not provide further information prior to Tuesday’s publishing deadline.

Administration officials who testified at a July 22 meeting of the Joint Mental Health Oversight Committee did not mention the incident to lawmakers.

Reed said in his email that an elopement at any mental health facility generates an event report. The department must inform the chairs of the House Human Services Committee and Senate Health and Welfare Committee of event reports at hospitals.

He did not clarify whether event reports at secure residential facilities must be reported to the Legislature, or what committee chairs such a report would be sent to.

Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, who chairs the House Human Services Committee, said she was not informed about the incident. Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, chair of Senate Health and Welfare, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pugh said she would have liked to be informed about the elopement, but the race to adjournment and the summer recess could have interrupted reporting.

“People inform me to the best of their ability,” she said, “Sometimes they don’t inform me.”

Pugh said the incident at the Middlesex facility falls into “a larger discussion” about which legislative committee it should be reported to, suggesting that the House Institutions and Corrections Committee has a role in overseeing the secure residential facility as well.

Rep. Alice Emmons, D/W-Springfield, chair of the House Institutions and Corrections Committee, said she does not recall being told about the elopement. Her committee does not have an oversight role in non-correctional facilities once they’re built, Emmons said.

A separate incident on May 4 is described in the department’s event report list as an “elopement,” but a subsequent investigation report from Licensing and Protection doesn’t mention any escape — just deficiencies in a patient’s treatment plan.

The event report list includes notes saying, “resident called (Vermont State Police), troopers responded and (sic) informed not an emergency,” but the department would not say why the incident was listed as an elopement.

A state police report confirms that the issue was quickly resolved and did not involve an escape.

The Middlesex facility’s correction plan includes more appropriate staffing for “community outings” and better reporting and implementation of treatment plans for residents.

State inspectors could still follow up to ensure the plan of correction is implemented and working.

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Morgan True

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  • Curtis Sinclair

    Unfortunately revelations like this generally only end up hurting patient’s rights. I saw that happen at the Vermont State Hospital. When there were too many patient elopements they didn’t add more staff or improve staff training very much. They did stop the community outings though. The danger level of many of those patients was pretty minimal too. Many had been incarcerated on minor charges like hitchhiking on the interstate, or stealing cigarettes.