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Vermont Lawmakers Hear Arguments On Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment

Psychiatric hospitals often receive patients who are admitted involuntarily. And the procedures for giving emergency medications to those patients are of growing concern in Vermont. Questions on these complex and sensitive issues were put to a panel of Vermont lawmakers last week.

Jill Olson, Vice President of Policy and Legislative Affairs for the Vermont Association of Hospital Systems, says the regulations regarding involuntary measures like medication and restraint are only used in emergency situations where a patient poses an imminent risk to themselves or others. The medication used to treat patients on an emergency basis is primarily for sedation, Olson says, rather than treating the underlying psychiatric issue.

But she still says there are some who don’t think any medication should be administered to an involuntary patient.

“In Vermont, there are some advocates who feel strongly that the use of medication is very different than the use of seclusion and restraint,” Olson says.

In terms of longer-term treatment to deal with psychiatric illnesses, Olson says the law would need to change to speed up the amount of time doctors must wait to administer medication to an involuntary patient.

“It’s really an issue where the legislature would need to act,” says Olson.

Governor Peter Shumlin recently said Vermont has some of the most lenient laws in the country regarding a patient’s ability to refuse psychiatric medication on a longer-term basis. Olson says the key difference between Vermont and other states is the amount of time doctors need to wait in order to administer medication.

“Vermont is an outlier in terms of how long it takes to get from a patient being admitted to a hospital to being treated with medication,” says Olson.

But Olson also says the group of people this law refers to is specific and small. It applies to involuntary patients who are refusing medication as a treatment and are also acutely psychotic.

“We do believe that the time frame needs to be shorter. Our position is that it shouldn’t take more than 30 days from admission to medication.”