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BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Retreat and Rescue Inc. have signed a one-year contract for a pilot program that will help address the critical shortage of hospital transportation options for voluntary mental health patients waiting in emergency departments throughout Vermont.

“There are areas of the state that just don’t have the available resources to transport patients to definitive mental health treatment or definitive medical care,” said Drew Hazelton, chief of operations for Rescue Inc. “Those patients are are getting stuck for a while in emergency departments while they wait for available resources. The Retreat understands the importance of getting patients out of the high stimulus treatment area where they can be appropriately treated.”

“We have seen admitted patients waiting to be transferred to the Retreat but having their admission delayed for hours or days for the sole reason of transportation not being available,” said Linda Rossi, CEO of the Brattleboro Retreat, in a statement announcing the new collaboration. “This program will have an immediate impact that will get patients to the right environment for treatment, while also freeing up needed bed space in our acute care hospitals.”

Hazelton said the two organizations have a good working relationship, and they have been ironing out the details for the past couple of months to get the program up and running.

“Rescue has been taking care of and transporting patients to the Retreat for 60 years,” he said. “But our reach has not been beyond Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend. So this program will expand our reach to all corners.”

Hazelton also said the new program will not affect the services Rescue Inc. provides to its 14 member towns.

“It’s a dedicated crew and dedicated equipment,” he said. “We’ve brought on an additional ambulance for this project. That ambulance and crew [will] be travelling all across the state to bring people to Brattleboro.”

Hazelton said there are other programs available to make sure they get a ride home.

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“Once they’ve received the services, my expectation is they will be going back to their communities,” he said.

The new program, which is being funded by the Retreat, is expected to launch in February.

“The Retreat is currently slated to get back to full capacity for inpatient care in 60 days,” said Erik Rosenbauer, vice president of government relations, communications, marketing and emergency services for the Retreat, in an email to the Reformer.

Treatment for involuntary patients and adjudicated mental health evaluations will continue to be coordinated by the Vermont Department of Mental Health, he added.

“The Department of Mental Health applauds the collaboration between Brattleboro Retreat and Rescue Inc. to support individuals getting to the right level of care when and where they need it,” said Nicole DiStasio, director of policy for DMH, in an email.

Hazelton noted this program is not in response to Brattleboro’s decision to discontinue its contract with Rescue Inc.

“It’s really about filling the voids that exist in our current transportation system,” he said.

Rescue will receive reimbursement from the Retreat and its traditional funding sources, such as private and federal insurance.

Bob Audette can be contacted at