Letter: Inpatient unit closing places LGBT+ community at risk

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Editor of the Reformer,

Amidst a standoff between state officials and the Brattleboro Retreat over financing, the Retreat has been scrambling to make up for massive budget shortfalls. One of the heaviest casualties so far is the supposedly temporary closure of one of the seven inpatient units, OSGOOD 2. For those who are unaware, OSGOOD 2 is the only LGBT+ inpatient program in the country.

The unit closed on Dec. 23, 2019 and as of (Jan. 10) has not been reopened. Staff for the unit, admissions staff, and patients are left waiting for an anticipated opening date. Patients being admitted are rerouted to other programs, with staff not trained to support the unique needs and differences that the LGBT+ community has.

In addition to the stigmas associated with being LGBT+, the community faces a huge disadvantage with mental health issues. LGBT+ individuals are more than twice as likely as cisgender, heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition, and 48 percent of transgender adults have considered suicide in the past year, compared to 4 percent of the overall U.S. population. Furthermore, LGBT+ teens are nearly five times as likely as their straight peers to attempt suicide.

Many of the risk factors for mental health issues within the community comes from the stress of living as a stigmatized minority. Even within a state as progressive as Vermont, LGBT+ people find they must contend with harassment, discrimination, and bias by peers, family, colleagues, workplaces, houses of worship, schools, places of public accommodation, and health care settings. Anti-LGBT rhetoric can become internalized, leading to more stress and the potential for suicidal thoughts.

Choosing to close the only LGBT+ unit as part of an ongoing funding battle with the state is choosing to place an already vulnerable population at greater risk. Patients who are already at their most vulnerable must now decide if they can handle facing the stigmas so prevalent towards their sexual orientation or gender identity from both staff and peers. If they cannot, they are left with no alternative for treatment.

Rheba Reynolds

Brattleboro, Jan. 10

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