Brattleboro Retreat cuts 31 jobs
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | November 15,2012
Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo
The Brattleboro Retreat was founded in 1834 as the first mental health facility in Vermont and one of the first 10 private psychiatric hospitals in the United States.
BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Retreat, in the midst of contract talks with its 500 unionized employees, announced 31 layoffs on Wednesday, eliminating its art and music therapy department and two other programs.
Layoffs were blamed on the increased complex medical and psychiatric needs of its patients, according to Peter Albert, senior vice president of government relations. He said the activity therapy department, along with some chemical dependency counselors, weren’t the top priority of patients in crisis.
Albert said the cuts were not related to the ongoing contract talks, something that a union spokesman agreed with. Albert said he didn’t know how much the cuts would save the facility, since he hoped some of the 31 people could move into open positions in other areas at the private psychiatric hospital.
John V. Callaci, an official with the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, said that if the financial problem behind the layoffs was based in the contract talks, the retreat would have used the layoffs as a potential threat as a bargaining chip in contract talks.
Instead, Callaci said, the retreat announced the layoffs Wednesday at the end of the previously scheduled negotiations. Both sides are due back at the table next week, he said. The union represents 500 of the retreat’s 700 employees.
Callaci instead blamed the layoffs on what he called “gross mismanagement” by the retreat. “All of the services eliminated and reduced distinguished the Brattleboro Retreat and set it apart from virtually all other psychiatric facilities,” he said.
“They go from millions of dollars in surpluses, which they’ve totally squandered,” Callacci said. He added, “mandatory overtime is through the roof,” another sign of mismanagement.
The programs the retreat is eliminating are unique to the retreat, he said, and make it “a center of excellence.”
Retreat patients will no longer receive art therapy, activity therapy or music therapy, he said.
Albert said that the retreat made $1 million in profit in 2010, and $1.5 million in profit in 2011, and during the first six months of 2012 was projecting a similar surplus.
“But what we found in the summer ... we were seeing patients with higher medical and psychiatric acuity, and we are bringing on staff to meet those needs,” he said. “The focus was changing.”
He said the retreat got its latest financial report for October this past weekend, and it showed the financial tide had turned red.
The hospital was losing money, he said, and rather than continue to lose money, it assessed areas that could be cut.
While the services that were cut were “really great to have, they’re not the primary reason to seek our service. We really had to do some soul-searching and focus on what’s crucial, as hard as it is,” Albert said. “They certainly add something important, but the reason people come to a hospital at 2 a.m., is ‘who’s going to keep me safe and provide expert psychiatric care and do a good job of getting me back home.’”
“It’s been a very intense day and very difficult for people,” Albert said.
Albert said that renovations funded by the state for the state hospital wing at the retreat were separate from the retreat’s financial problems. Likewise, money for roof repairs and other long-term maintenance came from a separate bank loan and can’t be used for staffing, he said.
Callacci faulted the retreat for not laying off a single administrator in the cutbacks. He also said that the retreat was closing its school for its adolescent patients. “That service will not be continued.”
“What you have is a booming patient census and a wholesale destruction of services,” said Callaci.