Retreat gets pandemic-related funding

Sign at the Brattleboro Retreat thanks employees for their courage and dedication during the coronavirus pandemic.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Retreat is getting more than $7 million to help stabilize its finances and support operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state has agreed to provide the mental health and addictions hospital with a $3.5 million grant and about $3.8 million in weekly Medicaid advances between now and June. The hospital also recently received about $500,000 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act.

The pandemic came at a time when the Retreat was waiting to learn more about its fate as it went back and forth with the state over funding. Those conversations will continue, said Louis Josephson, Retreat president and CEO.

"But the here and now is critical, and I think everyone understands that," he said, looking at the state funding as a recognition of the Retreat's importance within Vermont's mental health framework. "What we've done during the crisis, and the crisis is not over, is we went all in on Vermont and Vermonters."

Sarah Squirrell, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, called the Retreat "an essential component" of the statewide mental health system. She said the hospital is the only one in the state that provides inpatient mental health services for children and youth, and it represents about 50 percent of the state's inpatient capacity.

"Certainly from our perspective, that capacity is something that we prioritize," she said.

Squirrell said it is known that when people have access to mental health care at the right time, the impact on their lives can be powerful and lifesaving. She said the state has been working with the Retreat to ensure the hospital can continue those services and patient care during the COVID-19 crisis.

Just like other hospitals in Vermont, the Retreat is struggling a little bit financially, Josephson said.

"We're pretty much running with the pack with those needs so it is absolutely helpful," he said. "We lost a lot of revenue. We kind of don't look the same."

In response to the pandemic, the Retreat stopped taking any out-of-state referrals to help reduce the number of psychiatric patients in emergency rooms in Vermont. A negative pressure unit was set up in case it is needed to keep patients with the virus isolated.

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

The Retreat's inpatient psychiatric units, its biggest source of revenue, has recently seen a daily count of patients in the lower to upper 60s when it normally has about 100 patients each day. That accounts for at least a 35 percent decline in revenue, Josephson said.

An out-patient psychotherapy program is "limping along," he said. Telehealth practices are being used for the time being but the program is not running at the same volume.

Group therapies have been suspended. A school for students with social emotional issues was temporarily closed but Josephson said staff are providing support and counseling to the students while other employees have moved to programs that are still active.

The Retreat is the biggest employer in Windham County. Luckily, Josephson said, there have been no furloughs. He said there may have been a couple of layoffs.

Josephson described himself as being "really proud of our staff who have stepped up." He said employees take on some risks as they could be dealing with mental health issues that can result in aggressive behavior at times.

"But people didn't sign up for getting a viral infection," he said. "The fact that staff hung in and continued the work, it's just such an affirmation of their commitment to our patients, just who they are as human beings. I'm just so proud to be here and working side by side with them."

Josephson acknowledged the support from officials at the Department of Mental Health and the Agency of Human Services, calling them "outstanding partners."

"[W]e are grateful for their hard work and timely action," he said in a statement. "We are also grateful to the Windham County [legislative] delegation for their continued support and great concern for both our patients and community."

Squirrell said the Agency of Human Services and the hospital are forming a team to create a path toward fiscal sustainability. They "have been partners for many years so the tone and spirit of the current discussions are really focused on collaboration and problem solving, and I think that's where we really want to be right now."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.