U.S. Department of Justice Issues Report on Vermont State Hospital

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DATE: July 7, 2005

Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

WATERBURY—State officials have received a report from the U.S. Department of Justice that outlines findings related to an investigation last September of the conditions and practices at the Vermont State Hospital.

The report found the use of seclusion and restraint at the hospital to be excessive, and sharply criticized the clinical care found at the time of the inspection last year.

“We will be meeting with the Department of Justice as soon as possible to follow up on the details of their findings and to share information about our progress on these issues since the inspection last year,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Paul Jarris, “and we will do this in the spirit of continuing cooperation.”

“The findings contained in this report go to the heart of the systemic deficiencies we identified last year and have been working on ever since,” said Jarris, whose department took over the hospital in July 2004.

“Based on the exit interview with DOJ last September, we knew this report would be harsh,” Jarris said. “Having an understanding of the major issues, however, was very helpful, as we were able to start working back then to address them.”

“Our first consideration has been, and will continue to be, the safety of our patients,” he said. “We called in several experts and have made numerous physical changes to the facility in response to their findings.”

“With respect to the clinical care systems deficiencies that are the focus of the report, within days after the Justice Department briefed us on what this report might say, we entered into negotiations that culminated last month in a new, multi-year clinical services contract with Fletcher Allen Health Care.”

Under the terms of the contract, FAHC will provide increased professional staffing and supervision at the hospital, beginning immediately.

“This represents a major change in Fletcher Allen’s relationship with the Vermont State Hospital,” Jarris said. “The contract negotiations took a long time and a lot of thought went into them. Going forward, we will now benefit from the full strength of their academic and clinical management resources.”

Under the terms of the contract, FAHC has agreed, within 120 days, to complete an assessment of the clinical standards at the hospital and to design a plan for improvement.

“The Justice Department report gives us a clear agenda for the clinical care systems change anticipated in the FAHC contract,” Jarris said.

In addition to the months-long effort to negotiate the new contract, the Douglas Administration also has increased funding, increased staffing, and won legislative approval for increased support for both the facility and the employees at Vermont State Hospital.

Most recently, the Administration has made safety and other improvements to the facility and has instituted a package of incentives designed to assist staff recruitment and to retain valued employees, some of whom have devoted their lives to caring for state hospital patients.

Jarris expressed satisfaction that the Department of Justice report noted “the extensive assistance and cooperation” of both staff and state officials during the investigation.

The report singled out for special thanks the “individual VSH staff members, both new and longstanding, who make daily efforts to provide appropriate care and treatment and improve the lives of patients at the hospital.”

“We appreciate the Department of Justice’s recognition of our hard-working staff, who do their best for our patients every day, under very challenging circumstances,” Jarris said. “They deserve our gratitude and the federal investigators recognized that.”

The Department of Justice report is posted on the Health Department’s website, at www.healthyvermonters.info/mh/mhindex.shtml.