Health Care

Amid budget shortfalls, Central Vermont Medical Center to talk with regulators about plans for more psychiatric beds

Emergency sign and hospital
The emergency department at Central Vermont Medical Center in 2020. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

With the worst of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, state regulators are itching for significant progress on plans for a standalone psychiatric unit at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin.

That hospital’s plan for a 25-bed psychiatric unit has been stuck in the planning phase since 2018. The pandemic delayed progress on the project, according to regulators, but planning had also slowed because of disagreements on the size and cost of the project

Leaders from The University of Vermont Health Network, the Berlin hospital’s parent, are scheduled to go before the Green Mountain Care Board later this week to discuss a path forward, even as children and adults with mental health needs are waiting for days for an inpatient psychiatric bed. 

Before the pandemic, the health network agreed to use $21 million in surplus revenue for the project. Since then, there’s been no movement on the issue other than quarterly project updates.

As of Monday morning, eight adults and seven children in crisis were waiting in emergency departments across the state, according to the Vermont Department of Mental Health. 

“Covid put everything on hold,” said Kevin Mullin, the Green Mountain Care Board chair. “Now it’s time to get back and figure out how they’re going to spend $21 million on inpatient beds.” 

The surplus, meanwhile, remains in UVM Health Network’s coffers, according to network spokesperson Annie Mackin.

But the financial fallout from coronavirus may delay the project’s start date even more. 

Just a few weeks ago, UVM Health Network executives said its hospitals in Burlington and Berlin are slated to finish the current fiscal year with a $44 million shortfall. State regulators allowed the network to increase its service charges by more than $14 million this year, but the hospital network said that wasn’t enough to cover the deficit.  

Network leaders responded to the situation by “temporarily restricting” all capital projects, including the inpatient psychiatric unit in Berlin, which the network began planning in earnest in 2018. 

UVM Health Network leaders restarted the planning last year with the goal of opening the psychiatric unit in 2025. The exact cost for the project has not been specified, but at one time, the network pitched a $150 million price tag.

Mullin said he expects network leaders to make meaningful progress toward expanding access to inpatient psychiatric beds in Vermont, though the network’s budget issues may mean the vision for the unit would have to be scaled back somewhat.

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Liora Engel-Smith

About Liora

Liora Engel-Smith covers health care for VTDigger. She previously covered rural health at NC Health News in North Carolina and the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire. She also had been at the Muscatine Journal in rural Iowa. Engel-Smith has master's degrees in public health from Drexel University and journalism from Temple University. Before moving to journalism, she was a scientist who briefly worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

Email: [email protected]

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