Vermonters need affordable, accessible healthcare — including mental health.
Having recently retired from Vermont Family Network, a statewide organization that provided family to family support, information, and connection as the state's federally designated Family to Family Health Information Center, I have had up close and personal experiences with all aspects of our healthcare system. I worked with local and state partners to help families of children with special health needs or disabilities figure out how to access the healthcare they needed. Over the last few years, caring for my dad, especially during pandemic isolation, we came to see the advantages of his great insurance as a military retiree, and the gaps in a system of care that cannot keep up with patients' needs. There are real barriers to care, from insurance and prescription issues and the real cost of medical care, to locating and getting a timely appointment with a provider, especially if they are a specialist. Elders and people with disabilities are especially challenged to find affordable, accessible healthcare that is responsive to their needs, and these populations are growing.
Though Vermont attempted to create more holistic care by weaving the state's Departments of Health and Mental Health into one as part of the Agency of Human Services restructuring in 2004, we have since returned to silos of services and care, treating physical and mental health as separately as ever. This last year, in Emergency Departments at UVMMC and NMC, we have seen children and adolescents experiencing mental health crises stranded for days because there were no appropriate hospital or residential care beds available, and community mental health providers lacked capacity to meet their needs so that these young people could be home with their families.
I am very concerned about Vermont's health and mental health resources. Our healthcare system was stretched before the pandemic, and it's even more stressed now. I want to work to see a more prevention-focused, integrated system that can better meet people's needs before they are in a position where they need hospitalization and/or residential care. As your Senator, I will be committed to working on bills that promote patient and family-centered care, ensure that Vermont is attracting and keeping health and mental health providers, creating greater capacity at the community level to meet surging needs for mental health supports, and addressing universal access to primary care.