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Brattleboro Retreat Will Receive $7.3 Million Bailout To Weather COVID-19 Crisis

A silver box and tube machine running into a room.
Konstantin von Krusenstiern
/
Brattleboro Retreat, Courtesy
A negative pressure machine has been set up at the Brattleboro Retreat for the hospital's COVID-19 unit. The hospital was already experiencing financial difficulties, which have since been exacerbated by the crisis.

The Brattleboro Retreat will receive an emergency $7.3 million state bailout to stabilize its finances during the COVID-19 pandemic.The Retreat's finances were in pretty rough shape even before the public health crisis: Back in January, the hospital said it might have to close or sell its facilities because of its bleak financial picture.

Following that announcement, the state performed a financial audit and found out that the Retreat had lost almost $5 million between 2015 and 2018.

And now, the fallout from the new coronavirus has pushed the state’s largest psychiatric hospital to the brink.

“Like every other hospital during the COVID-19 crisis we are struggling with our finances,” said Brattleboro Retreat CEO Louis Josephson.

"The hospitals that had more money in the bank are better able to withstand it. Hospitals with skinnier bank balances are struggling. And we definitely had a skinnier bank balance." — Louis Josephson, Brattleboro Retreat CEO

On one floor, the Retreat had to move all of its current patients and set up a COVID-19 unit, intended for acute psychiatric patients from elsewhere in the state who become infected with the virus. In the unit, both psychiatric and general practice doctors will treat patients who are showing mild symptoms of the disease.

Josephson said the psychiatric hospital has not yet seen a patient with COVID-19, and that a patient with severe symptoms will be moved to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for treatment.

In the meantime, group therapy programs have been canceled, the hospital's school is closed, and it is no longer taking out-of-state patients. The number of patients has dropped from almost 100 a day to about 60, and Josephson said the Retreat does not have enough money in reserve to weather this storm on its own.

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: As COVID-19 Spreads, Hospitals Face Financial Woes

“Like with any business the amount of cash you have on hand when you hit a crisis like this … the hospitals that had more money in the bank are better able to withstand it,” Josephson said. “Hospitals with skinnier bank balances are struggling. And we definitely had a skinnier bank balance.”

Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell said the Retreat will receive an immediate $3.5 million grant, and then weekly payments through June.

Some of that money will be paid back if the Retreat receives federal bailout payments, Squirrell added.

When the Retreat announced this winter that it was on the verge of closing, the state said it would not open up its checkbook to bailout the hospital.

"I think right now, we have an opportunity to really have a thoughtful discussion about our future approaches to the mental health system in Vermont." — Sarah Squirrell, Mental Health Commissioner

But Squirrell said losing the Retreat during the coronavirus pandemic would threaten the entire health care system. So the state rushed money to the hospital.

Squirrell said as part of the emergency relief package, the state will work with the Retreat to examine how it’s operating, and to make sure it doesn’t continue to lose so much money once the pandemic is over.

“I think right now, we have an opportunity to really have a thoughtful discussion about our future approaches to the mental health system in Vermont," the commissioner said. "And to really evaluate the socially and fiscally optimal size of the Retreat, you know, the scope and structure of the Brattleboro Retreat, and to establish a viable path to sustainability.”

The Brattleboro Retreat is a VPR underwriter.

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