UVM Health Network is proposing an $18 million effort to address mental health care

The entrance to the emergency room at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington on November 7, 2020.

The University of Vermont Health Network wants to build a mental health urgent care clinic to take some of the heat out of its emergency departments, which often serve as de facto shelters for patients experiencing mental health crises.

The $2.85 million clinic is just part of an $18 million proposal Health Network presented, in partnership with the Vermont Department of Mental Health, to the Green Mountain Care Board last week to address the crisis state mental health.

The largest single expense in the proposal is $4.5 million to reconfigure the psychiatric unit at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin to “increase bed usage and improve patient experience.” The reconfiguration involves converting six beds from shared rooms to private rooms to give psychiatric patients more privacy, calm and tranquility.

The entrance to the emergency room at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington on November 7, 2020.

“This will help reduce the number of patients waiting in the emergency room and provide a better environment for healing,” a news release said.

Also in the proposal:

  • Expand resources for eating disorders and transgender care clinics for youth. Hire additional staff, including a doctor, dieticians, social workers, psychologists and support staff for young people with eating disorders or transgender care needs.
  • Expand the schedules for ambulance transportation at Brattleboro Retreat. This will be a pilot program offering ambulance transport to collection from 5-11pm to determine patient benefits.
The Brattleboro Retreat in Brattleboro, pictured on January 17, 2019.
  • Continue to integrate primary care and mental health care. The network has made “significant investments” to expand access to mental health services at its primary care sites, according to a news release. Based on initial success, the plan is to add these services at even more clinics.
  • Develop and implement protocols to prevent suicides, with a particular focus on service members, veterans, and their families.
  • Expanding access to innovative treatments for patients with major depression. This involves the creation of esketamine and transcranial magnetic stimulation programs at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Dr. Robert Althoff, chair of psychiatry at UVM Health Network, explained in an email that esketamine is a nasal spray that can be used with an antidepressant in “treatment-resistant depression and suicidal depression.” Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a noninvasive treatment that uses magnetic fields generated on the scalp to improve symptoms of treatment-resistant depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to Althoff.

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