BRATTLEBORO — Gov. Peter Shumlin plans to ask the Legislature to change the state’s mental health laws to make it easier for doctors to administer drugs to state hospital patients who are refusing treatment.
Shumlin said the Brattleboro Retreat psychiatric hospital, which is facing a loss of federal funding, is confronting many of the issues that caused the Vermont State Hospital to lose federal dollars. He said some of those issues stem from the state’s involuntary medication law.
“We have a challenge in Vermont, and that is that we are the most lenient state in the country when it comes to giving patients the ability to refuse or reject pharmaceutical treatment when it is medically warranted,” Shumlin told the Brattleboro Reformer.
“We have to come up with a system that gives our providers more latitude when it comes to acutely ill patients who desperately need pharmaceuticals as a part of the treatment,” he said. “I believe in patients having, whenever possible, control over their own destiny, but somehow we have to strike a better balance than what we have on the books right now.”
Currently, a doctor must seek approval from a judge before involuntarily medicating a patient, a process that can take months.
A.J. Ruben, supervising attorney for Disability Rights Vermont, part of a national advocacy system that receives federal money to provide protection and advocacy for people with developmental disabilities, said the problem with Vermont’s involuntary non-emergency medication system is it’s underfunded.
“From our perspective we do not think the law on involuntary non-emergency medication should be changed,” he said.
“If there is a delay in the system it is not because the law is not working, but because the system is underfunded and not working well.”
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