Middlebury seeks a screener to evaluate incapacitated people

REP. AMY SHELDON, D-Middlebury, is one of the local officials looking north to Chittenden County for a potential service model for screening incapacitated persons.

MIDDLEBURY — Local lawmakers have agreed to explore ways to pay for a professional screener to evaluate incapacitated persons in Addison County and determine their medical needs, whether that be detox services, hospital care or simply a temporary place to stay.
The absence of a screener in Addison County has been a source of frustration for Middlebury police, who are dealing with an increasing number of folks dealing with mental health and/or substance abuse challenges. It’s up to police to respond to related disturbances and steer individuals to detox, counseling, shelters or, in some cases, jail.
Since Addison County doesn’t have a detox facility, incapacitated persons must receive those services in Rutland or Burlington, and it’s up to Middlebury police to transport them, according to Chief Tom Hanley. And that takes two officers off their regular duties — one to drive, the other to monitor the passenger.
Police have been lobbying for a screener and a local detox center, though they acknowledge the latter could be several years off because of the potential price tag. So the Middlebury selectboard is hoping state government can at least partially foot the bill for a screener, whose services could reduce the amount of out-of-town travel for officers who could then focus more intently on local enforcement and investigations.
Officials, like Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, are looking north to Chittenden County for a potential service model for screening incapacitated persons.
“I’m committed to helping us figure out why we don’t have a screener and how to get a screener,” Sheldon said. “It seems like that’s a small thing that would be really important in helping us move forward on this dilemma that we’re finding ourselves in.”
Sheldon was among a group of Addison County lawmakers that met with Porter Medical Center officials on Wednesday, Dec. 11, to discuss health care issues leading up to the 2020 legislative session. And that meeting gave lawmakers and Porter officials some insights into Chittenden County’s “Community Outreach Program,” made up of four trained individuals and based in the Howard Center in Burlington. The Howard Center provides services to Chittenden County residents facing mental health challenges, substance abuse issues and developmental disabilities.
The Community Outreach Team and a related Street Outreach Team are connecting individuals to services such as shelters, detox and medical care. The Community Outreach Team works in partnership with local and regional law enforcement, business owners and community members to respond to individuals of any age with unmet social service needs, often due to — but not limited to — mental health or substance use issues, according to the Howard Center website.
Street Outreach serves Burlington, while Community Outreach serves South Burlington, Essex, Colchester, Shelburne, Winooski, Williston and Richmond. The funding is a partnership among the following: University of Vermont Medical Center, United Way of Northwest Vermont, the Department of Mental Health, and the individual towns. The approximate total cost per full-time equivalent team position is $85,000 to 89,000.
The team launched around 18 months ago, according to Denise Vignoe, the Howard Center’s director of development and communications.
It should be noted the team works in concert with two other successful Howard Center programs:
• ACT 1, which has five beds that are dedicated to house and support Chittenden County individuals incapacitated due to alcohol or other drugs, as determined by a police officer or staff on site at the program. ACT 1 staff are on-site and do not go out in the community to do screenings. They see individuals that are too intoxicated to be admitted to the shelter and are homeless.
•  Bridge, a six-bed facility co-located with ACT 1 with staff who assess and help people detox over a five-day period in a safe and supervised setting. Bridge does not meet a medical detox level, but may serve individuals medically cleared following a hospital supervised detox protocol.
Officials believe Addison County might be able to hire a screener and related services through a cost-sharing model that includes local communities and state assistance. The Community Outreach Program could serve as a model.
“(Chittenden County communities) have come together in a way that we’re good at doing in Addison County, and addressed the same situation,” Sheldon said. “Let’s see if we might replicate that here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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