MONTPELIER — Administration officials say they won’t let a dispute with a landowner postpone construction of a mental health facility in Middlesex.
The Shumlin administration has been racing since late 2011 to restore the in-patient capacity lost when Tropical Storm Irene rendered uninhabitable the 52-bed state psychiatric hospital in Waterbury. After false starts elsewhere, officials finally landed on a piece of state-owned land in Middlesex, where the town zoning board last month approved a secure facility on Route 2 near the state police barracks.
The facility will have six to eight beds, officials say.
But in an environmental court appeal, Brian Hannon, whose property abuts the site, has sought to quash the project, saying the noise, traffic and other issues associated with it will diminish his home’s value.
“If this happens, I will be forced to move,” he said at a Middlesex zoning board meeting this fall. “I will be forced to move from the house that I’ve been working on for 10 years.”
But administration officials say Hannon’s appeal is without merit and that they’ll move ahead with construction even with the appeal pending.
“When I have three or four different lawyers tell me we’re going to win, I don’t know what else you can do,” Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said last week. “It’s very rare that I get three or four telling me the same thing.”
Advocates, emergency room doctors and lawmakers all say the Middlesex facility will provide a relief valve for a mental health system still reeling from the 2011 flood. While additional psychiatric beds in Brattleboro and Burlington have accommodated some patients, hospital emergency rooms have been forced to take in acutely mentally ill people with nowhere else to go.
At a meeting of the Legislature’s Mental Health Oversight Committee on Monday, newly installed Commissioner of Mental Health Mary Moulton said the state submitted an emergency application for a certificate of need for the Middlesex facility. She said construction will last only six to eight weeks and that the first resident could be in the facility by January.
The Middlesex project is part of a plan approved by lawmakers last year that aims to decentralize the in-patient mental health system by replacing the Vermont State Hospital with smallerfacilities around the state.
In addition to adding capacity at existing hospitals in Brattleboro and Rutland, Vermont will construct a 25-bed in-patient hospital in Berlin near Central Vermont Medical Center. Spaulding said he expects to secure final permits for that project in the next few weeks. A groundbreaking in Berlin could come as early as this month, and Spaulding said the project is scheduled for completion in January 2014.
A temporary eight-bed facility in Morrisville will also come online soon, which advocates are also counting on to absorb some of the patients now being subjected to lengthy stays in emergency departments.
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