Courts & Corrections

Howard Center disputes wrong-way driver referral

(This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 18 with more information from Det. Benjamin Katz affidavit)

BURLINGTON — The Howard Center says that an internal investigation shows that the man charged with murder in the death of five teenagers after a wrong-way driving crash was not referred to them for screening.

The social service nonprofit, which has a $90 million state contract to provide mental health, substance abuse and disability services in Chittenden County, said that Steven Bourgoin was also not a client of the Howard Center, in the statement released Monday afternoon.

Bourgoin, who pleaded not guilty to murder and minor vehicle charges last week, was seen entering and exiting the emergency room at the UVM Medical Center three times Saturday morning, just hours before he allegedly entered Interstate 89 going north in the southbound lanes.

In a sworn affidavit establishing probable cause for the motor vehicle related charges, which the state filed days before the murder charges, State Police Det. Benjamin Katz wrote that, “I later called the Howard Center and learned that they were called but did not screen (Bourgoin).”

Katz writes that Bourgoin was seen that Saturday morning by a physician assistant but provides no further detail.

In its statement, Howard Center said it “conducted a thorough investigation which included interviews with our clinical staff, and a review of our phone and electronic records.”

That investigation concluded that they were “not contacted to evaluate, assess, or screen this individual on the day of the crash nor at any other time prior to this incident.”

Howard Center also says that Bourgoin was not a client prior to the incident, and that at no point was he referred to them by any other organization.

State’s Attorney TJ Donovan had cast doubt on the information in Katz’s affidavit in comments to reporters last week after Bourgoin’s arraignment.

Donovan said last Friday that it was no longer clear the Howard Center was contacted about Bourgoin on the Saturday of the crash.

“It’s unclear at this point whether Howard Center was called. I know it’s been reported that they had been called. It’s unclear at this time whether they had been called,” Donovan said.

Asked where the uncertainty arose after Det. Katz made his sworn statement saying that Howard Center was contacted, Donovan said, “We’re trying to get clarity, and once we have it we will answer the questions as best we can.”

“I think you have to take into consideration, our detectives, our officers, are bombarded with a lot of information…we are going through this information to make sure it is accurate so we can present the accurate facts,” said Lt. Det. Lance Burnham, in response to questions about whether Howard Center was contacted.

In a previous statement, Howard Center had said it was cooperating with the ongoing state police investigation into the events leading up to the fatal wrong-way driving crash. Donovan, who serves on the Howard Center board, affirmed their cooperation during his remarks last Friday.

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  • Deb Chadwick

    Howard has a 90 million dollar state contract to provide mental health, substance abuse and disability services in Chittenden County alone. This is a huge budget so I can’t help but wondering how effective this money is being used.

    I think it is a very sad comment that apparently someone dropped the ball on this horrible situation. Having a distressed person seek help three times in one morning and not getting the services they need, deeply concerns me. Red flags should have gone off when Mr. Bourgoin kept showing up at the ER AND yes, the Howard Center should have been called for assessment, etc. Whose to say if this would have prevented the needless deaths of these teenagers?

    I also think it is a tragedy that it seems to take something horrific happening before procedures are evaluated, and additional training of staff is implemented. My heart goes out to the innocents that are hurt by this lack…

    • J Scott Cameron

      Do you have any information whatsoever about the purpose of his visits to the ER?

    • robert fuller

      The news has only said he was caught on camera three times, but he could have just gone in and out while waiting to be seen. I would imagine he would have been triaged as low priority and therefore had to wait fairly long.

  • Theresa Wood

    Given that UVM Medical Center is the largest hospital in the state, a level 1 trauma center, and quickly expanding its reach to other local community hospitals, and is situated in the most populous city/county, it would seem that they should have their own mental health clinician on duty in the ER 24 / 7 to perform appropriate mental health screening.

  • Anne Donahue

    Two thoughts:
    They also “said that Steven Bourgoin was also not a client of the Howard Center.” So much for the assurance of confidentiality under HIPPA. When one says, “he was not” in one situation, then any time in the future that one says, “we are not allowed to disclose whether the individual was a client,” they are now disclosing exactly that — by not refuting it.
    Secondly, Theresa Wood is right. Despite claims that we now practice parity, all our emergency rooms use outside agencies to send in mental health clinicians to “pre-screen” whether a person is worthy of attention by their own staff. It means added delay, having to repeat one’s whole history, and feeling like a second-class citizen. No one else who seeks emergency room help faces those barriers. I know how demeaning it was for me in the past, and I know others who have given up on seeking help as a result of stigma and delay. We have a long way to go before we actually have equal access to mental health care.