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UVM Health Network Outlines Plan to Improve Mental Health Care Access, Reduce Pressure on Inpatient Capacity in Region

UVM Health Network Outlines Plan to Improve Mental Health Care Access, Reduce Pressure on Inpatient Capacity in Region Image

Plans Developed in Partnership with Vt. Department of Mental Health

Burlington, Vt. – On Wednesday, the University of Vermont Health Network filed a proposal with the Green Mountain Care Board aimed at improving access to mental health care throughout the region, as well as reducing pressure on strained inpatient capacity, using $18 million that the Network has committed to mental health. The plan was developed in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health, which shares the goal of increasing capacity for mental health services, particularly those that will reduce the need for inpatient care.

“This proposal was created with vital input from our patients, families and community and through a series of conversations with our colleagues at DMH,” said Robert Althoff, MD, PhD, UVM Health Network Chair, Psychiatry. “This process led to a plan for these funds that will provide services to reduce the need for hospitalization, provide crisis support in the community, support youth and families, and improve safety and comfort when hospitalization is required.”

“This plan reflects a commitment to investing in a comprehensive array of needed community-based services, as well as inpatient care,” said Emily Hawes, Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. “We appreciate the UVM Health Network’s thoughtful partnership as we work together to better serve the mental health needs of Vermonters.”

The proposed plan outlines multiple initiatives to improve mental health care in the region, including:  

  • A mental health urgent care clinic for Chittenden County: A collaboration between Community Health Centers, Howard Center, UVM Medical Center, with additional funding from the Department of Mental Health. Led by the Howard Center, the project will create an alternative to the Emergency Department for individuals in need of mental health care who do not need inpatient-level care.
  • Improvements to the psychiatric inpatient unit at Central Vermont Medical Center: Convert six beds from shared rooms to private rooms, providing patients with more privacy, as well as a calm and quiet environment. This will help reduce the number of patients waiting in the Emergency Department and provide a better environment for healing.
  • Resources for eating disorder and transgender care clinics for youth: Hire additional staff, including a physician, dieticians, social workers, psychologists, and support staff for youth with eating disorders or transgender care needs to meet referral and access demand.
  • Expanded hours for ambulance transport to Brattleboro Retreat: A pilot program will explore the benefit of expanding the hours during which patients can be transported to the Retreat via ambulance.
  • Continued integration between primary care and mental health care: Over the past several years, the Network has made significant investments in expanding access to mental health services though select primary care sites. Based upon early success, the plan calls for expansion to other clinics.
  • Suicide prevention efforts including risk assessment and safe pathways to care, with specific focus on service members, veterans and their families in alignment with the Governor’s Challenge for suicide prevention.
  • Expanded access to innovative treatments for patients with severe depression, such as Esketamine and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

“I’m proud of the collaboration between our teams and the Department of Mental Health to create this plan,” said Sunny Eappen, MD, MBA, President and Chief Executive Officer of the UVM Health Network. “They have identified tangible steps to improve the lives of our friends, families and neighbors who are struggling with mental health challenges, and I look forward to continuing to build on these efforts.”

The proposal directs the use of $18 million that had been set aside for mental health in 2018, when the Board, which closely regulates Vermont’s hospital budgets, determined that revenue taken in by UVM Health Network above what  budgeted for the year should be used for inpatient mental health. Along with hospitals nationwide, the UVM Health Network has faced well-documented financial challenges, but has remained committed to using the funds to improve access to mental health care.  

The proposal has also been shared with stakeholders such as the DMH Adult Program Standing Committee, the UVM Health Network Psychiatry Program Quality Committee, advocates for children and families, individuals with lived experience with mental health treatment, and representatives of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.