Health Care

Others step up to meet rehab demand after Maple Leaf closure

Barbara Cimaglio
Deputy Health Commissioner Barbara Cimaglio with then-Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2015. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
UNDERHILL — In the wake of Maple Leaf Associates’ sudden closure last week, the Health Department and other drug rehabilitation programs are formulating a plan to fill the vacuum created.

Maple Leaf’s management had temporarily closed its Underhill inpatient facility in mid-January because it was understaffed. Its outpatient program in Colchester continued to operate until last week.

Closing the outpatient program left more than 150 people without a place to get counseling and see their doctor to continue receiving buprenorphine, a drug used to suppress opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The two physicians working with Maple Leaf have both found space to see their patients, according to Deputy Health Commissioner Barbara Cimaglio. Dr. Paul Bertocci will work with Treatment Associates in Morrisville, and Dr. Deb Richter will work with Howard Center in Burlington.

Dr. Deb Richter. Courtesy photo
Dr. Deb Richter. Courtesy photo
For patients covered by Medicaid, the low-income health insurance program, the state will pay for transportation services if needed, Cimaglio said.

Now that it’s clear the inpatient facility in Underhill won’t reopen this month, as the state had initially hoped, officials are working with Vermont’s two other inpatient drug rehabilitation programs to meet statewide demand.

The Underhill facility, known as the farm, had 41 inpatient beds, or 30 percent of the state’s total.

Serenity House in Wallingford, which has 24 beds, has offered to convert another of its facilities, Grace House in Rutland, into an inpatient program. That will offer 10 additional beds and can begin to take people after the Division of Licensing and Protection completes a survey of the property.

Valley Vista, with 71 beds in Bradford, is working to establish an additional 20 beds at a former nursing home property it owns in Vergennes. That too will need state inspection before it begins taking inpatients.

“These steps would add 30 beds back into the system and help reduce the prospect of long wait times for treatment,” Cimaglio said. Currently, people are waiting between seven and 14 days for placement in an inpatient program, state officials have said.

Cimaglio said the Maple Leaf board still has not provided “a definitive reason” for its Feb. 8 decision to close its two treatment facilities. Doctors, employees and state officials were informed the next day.

Board President Jeff Messina, a Burlington attorney, did not return a call requesting comment Wednesday. Messina has not returned more than a dozen calls and interview requests during the last seven weeks.

In a statement provided to other media outlets, the board said it had determined that “it’s not feasible to continue operations under the current circumstances,” and Messina told The Burlington Free Press that staffing and finances were among a combination of factors that led to the closure.

Two former employees recently told VTDigger they were questioned by detectives with the attorney general’s Medicaid fraud unit about billing practices at Maple Leaf.

Former employees also described harassment by the program’s clinical director that closely mirrors allegations in a Division of Licensing and Protection investigation report.

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  • It’s wonderful these physicians are willing to help the 150 patients with their meds, but it’s also telling. The closing of Maple Leaf Farm should be the death knell of a woefully inadequate addiction and mental health treatment system in our state (and country). A near exclusive focus on an opioid Medication Managment treatment strategy to the apparent neglect of co-occurring mental health issues and alcohol and other drug use disorders ESCALATES death rates and treatment failure. The story of Maple Lead Farm confirms this. Treatment there went from treating a mix of alcohol and other drug problems to 90% opioid treatment with under-staffed and under-resourced psychosocial treatment regimens because the overuse and over promotion of meds. Instead of investing over $50million in opioid replacement, blocker and OD reversal meds, we could have invested a fraction of that into dramatic improvments in workforce training and development and non-pharma treatments with proven efficacy. Current path will continue to flounder and death rates will continue to rise until we re-engineer our addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery policies. Period.