Owen Foster, chair of the Green Mountain Care Board. The board’s decision gives the Department of Mental Health the lead in setting spending priorities. File photo by Riley Robinson/VTDigger

The Vermont Department of Mental Health will have a say in how the University of Vermont Health Network spends excess earnings that were earmarked in 2018 for expanding inpatient psychiatric capacity in the state. 

After several weeks of deliberation, the Green Mountain Care Board, which regulates hospital budgets, unanimously voted Wednesday to give the health network greater flexibility in spending the roughly $18 million that remains from the $21 million initially allocated. 

The funds can now be spent more broadly “to increase capacity of mental health services in the state,” the approved order said. But a proposal for spending, due to the board by May 31, must reflect and incorporate priorities from the Department of Mental Health.

“For me, the really important thing is we’re not the experts,” care board member Jessica Holmes said. “DMH are the experts here with a full view of the system and how best to create impact with these dollars.”

The health network — which includes University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin and Porter Medical Center in Middlebury — initially agreed to use the funds to construct a new psychiatric wing at the Berlin hospital that would have added 25 inpatient beds. 

But network leaders dropped the project, citing ongoing operating losses that were forcing them to scale back capital investments. They anticipated a $20 million loss stemming from the operation of the proposed facility due to lower-than-cost reimbursements for mental health care. 

The care board is requiring that the health network’s new proposal show how the investment could be expected to reduce the frequency and length of stays in emergency departments for adults, adolescents and children experiencing a mental health crisis. 

The order also requires that, going forward, all interest earned on the funds be put toward implementing the network’s proposal. 

Projects already mentioned by the health network in statements to the board include the opening of a second outpatient therapeutic program and working with the Howard Center to establish a mental health urgent care location in South Burlington.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Board allows broader use of UVM Health Network funds.

As Reported by VTDigger