Politics

Final Reading: Woodside escapees prompt another facility move

Ken Schatz
Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, testifies on the state of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center on Jan. 30, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

IN APRIL 1’S FINAL READING:

— After two Woodside patients escaped from a temporary facility they had been moved to, Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz told Senate Judiciary and Senate Health and Welfare lawmakers in a joint meeting that the state is now looking for another, more secure location to house these patients. 

The Woodside patients had been moved from the 30-bed facility in Essex to a converted office space in St. Albans to make room at the Essex site for psychiatric patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Schatz said the St. Albans location does not have proper locks or alarm systems that the landlord of the office space would not permit the state to install. – Grace Elletson

— Senate Judiciary also heard about how the state’s “Stay home, stay safe” order has caused issues among some parents demanding in-person contact with children under DCF’s care. 

DCF Commissioner Schatz said the vast majority of cases have been resolved with virtual contact with parents and children through phone calls and online video services — like Skype or Zoom.

However, Schatz added that there have been a few scenarios in which parents are still demanding in-person contact with children. – Kit Norton

— Also in the joint meeting, lawmakers heard from Monica Caserta Hutt, commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, about how assisted living and nursing homes are faring.

Hutt’s comments came while the Scott administration announced that there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases at eight long-term care facilities in the state. Hutt said the main concern is staffing the more than 150 facilities, especially in the coming weeks when cases are expected to peak.  

Hutt did address Burlington Health and Rehab, which has been hit the hardest — 22 residents along with 14 staff testing positive and eight deaths to date. She said that the facility has been taking the federally mandated steps to curb the spread of infection.  

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“There wasn’t anything wrong with what Burlington Health and Rehab was doing at all,” Hutt said. “They were doing good work, but it is a very aggressive virus.” – Kit Norton

— On an all-Senate call this morning, Pro Tem Tim Ashe asked his colleagues to consider legislation that could give a pay increase to low-wage workers who have recently been deemed “essential” in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“In some cases, we are the union for people who have no advocacy path,” Ashe said. “Especially those at the lowest end of the pay scale.” He’s said he’s concerned that recently passed federal unemployment protections might pay these workers more than their current jobs, which would disincentivize their employment. – Grace Elletson

— Mike Fisher, the head of the Vermont Office of the Health Care Advocate, told House Health Care that his office has heard from residents with mounting medical costs — mostly for those who are uninsured or underinsured — as a result of COVID-19 care.

Fisher added that he has heard from Vermonters who have not been able to receive non-coronavirus treatments — including stress tests, antibiotics, knee replacements and others.

“We are going to need quite a cleanup after this,” Fisher said. “And a part of that cleanup is we believe going to be many, many Vemronters who have bills related to the care during this time, either directly related to COVID or loss of income.” – Kit Norton

— Adam Greshin, commissioner of the Department of Finance, told House Appropriation lawmakers this morning that now that the state has a better idea of the financial support included in the federal government’s relief package, agencies will be given updated information about their remaining 2020 budgets. 

“We will ask them to be sober in their spending plans going forward to the end of this year,” Greshin said. – Grace Elletson

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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