ST. ALBANS — The Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex will be used to treat patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and also have significant mental health needs, Ken Schatz, head of the Dept. of Children and Families told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The four youth who were in the facility were moved to St. Albans on Tuesday to a location provided by Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS).
Schatz had been scheduled to give the committee an update on the administration’s plan to close Woodside, The Agency of Human Services announced plans to close the facility last fall, citing declining use.
“We’re doing the work we need to do to make sure kids are safe,” Schatz told the committee. “We just needed to move quickly to respond to this crisis.”
Unlike Woodside, the St. Albans location is not a locked facility. “Looking at the population we need to serve, we are completely comfortable that we can meet the needs for safety of the community and of the youth with a very closely staff supervised facility at this time,” Shatz said.
He expressed his appreciation for Woodside staff and NCSS for its assistance.
Asked about coronavirus preparations at other youth facilities, Shatz said each one has different capacity for isolating youth who show symptoms of COVID -19. DCF is working Vermont Emergency Management to identify alternative sites for youth with symptoms in those cases where the facility doesn’t have the capacity for isolation. DCF is also looking at returning kids to their homes or placing them if foster care where appropriate, Shatz said.
Separating youth for medical needs, Schataz noted, is not the same as isolating them in response to behavioral issues.
Woodside has been the state’s only locked juvenile mental health facility. However, it had come under fire for the treatment of youth there, after Disability Rights Vermont filed a suit over the facility’s use of physical restraint, prolonged isolation and other disciplinary measures. Judge Geoffrey Crawford sided with the plaintiffs in his initial rulings last year, describing the use of restraint he reviewed as “prolonged, chaotic and featur[ing] considerable violence,” and ordering the facility to adopt nationally recognized standard for restraining youth.
Crawford also ordered Woodside to change its seclusion policies. “Youth went without exercise, bedding and showers for days,” Crawford wrote in his ruling. “Plaintiff’s experts were very credible in describing the harm caused by prolonged isolation of young people from their peers and normal activities of life.”