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February 07, 2014

Morning Read: Newsweek Skewers Vermont Health Connect (Updated)

MorningreadUpdated below with comment from Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson, who says the Newsweek story is inaccurate and "inflammatory."

How bungled was the rollout of Vermont Health Connect, the state's trouble-plagued health insurance exchange?

In a word, argues veteran reporter and New York Times alum Lynnley Browning, very. But Browning takes a full 3,400 words to make that point in a brutal new story published on Newsweek's website Thursday evening

In it, Browning writes that Vermont state officials "glossed over ominous warning signs and Keystone Cops-like planning" as they worked with contractor CGI Federal to build the federally mandated exchange. 

Continue reading "Morning Read: Newsweek Skewers Vermont Health Connect (Updated)" »

January 17, 2014

Bill Would Give VT Judges New Tools for Dealing With Brain-Injured Defendants

Localmatters-pion2Defendants who argue compellingly that they committed a crime as a consequence of a past traumatic brain injury often go free in Vermont. That's because the state's courts have no way of dealing with such cases.

Judges cannot order defendants with TBI to be incarcerated, hospitalized or placed under state supervision — in contrast to those found incompetent to stand trial due to a mental illness or cognitive deficiency. As Seven Days reported last March in "Why Brain Injured Defendants Often Go Free," judges often have no choice but to let a defendant with TBI walk, even if he or she has committed numerous violent or sexual offenses and remains a threat to public safety.

But that could change this year. On Friday, Rep. Warren Van Wyck (R–Ferrisburgh) presented legislation to the House Judiciary Committee that would let judges order a brain-injured defendant to be committed to the custody of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, just like someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. And, like a person with mental illness, he or she could be tried for the crime if later deemed competent to stand trial.

Continue reading "Bill Would Give VT Judges New Tools for Dealing With Brain-Injured Defendants" »

January 09, 2014

Shumlin Pushes Tough Penalties Along with Treatment for Drug Crime

Immediate reaction to Gov. Peter Shumlin's state of the state address yesterday focused on his declaration that drug addiction is a public health crisis that should be tackled with prevention and treatment rather than "simply doling out punishment."

Advocates for criminal justice reform were overjoyed that the governor used his bully pulpit to declare that drug crime is primarily a "health crisis," not simply a law enforcement problem.

"I think this is profound,' said State Rep. Bill Lippert, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in an interview. "This is a really big deal. There is a fundamental shift that's been articulated."

But Shumlin's speech also included little-noticed proposals that came from the more traditional tough-on-crime playbook.

Continue reading "Shumlin Pushes Tough Penalties Along with Treatment for Drug Crime" »

January 08, 2014

Shumlin Launches Campaign Against "Opiate Crisis"

State of state 1Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his State of the State address Wednesday to highlighting what he called a "rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime" that he said threatens the quality of life in Vermont.

During a 34-minute speech, Shumlin said Vermont is imperiled by opiate addicts who cannot access  treatment and commit crimes to raise money for drugs. The governor proposed steps to bolster treatment for addicts, shift the focus of the court system from punishment to a treatment and slap tougher sentences on out-of-state dealers who bring drugs to Vermont.

"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state," Shumlin said. "It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised."

Continue reading "Shumlin Launches Campaign Against "Opiate Crisis" " »

January 07, 2014

Shumlin Doubles Down on Exchange, and Shifts Focus to Single-Payer Health Care


Gov. Peter Shumlin is calling in reinforcements on Vermont Health Connect, the troubled website that has been the crucible of his most recent months in office.  

That was the news out of the Statehouse Tuesday morning, where Shumlin made the unusual move of testifying before a joint meeting of the Senate Health and Welfare and House Health Care committees.

He pledged more hands on deck for the day-to-day management of the troubled health care exchange, in response to a request from Commissioner Mark Larson. The governor announced that Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller — who Shumlin singled out for his private-sector business savvy — will assist with improvements to the exchange over the next three months.  

Continue reading "Shumlin Doubles Down on Exchange, and Shifts Focus to Single-Payer Health Care" »

January 06, 2014

Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Takes Her Own Life at Brattleboro Retreat

Bratt Retreat  overallPolice and administrators at the Brattleboro Retreat are investigating the apparent suicide Friday night of a 13-year-old girl who was under the care of the psychiatric hospital's adolescent residential program. A brief statement released by the Retreat over the weekend reads:

“It is with great sadness that we report the tragic death of a 13-year-old female who took her life Friday evening, January 3. The individual was receiving care in one of the Brattleboro Retreat's residential homes adjacent to the Retreat's main campus. The family was notified immediately and the Retreat is now working with the appropriate authorities and agencies to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this incident.  As we proceed with the investigation, our prayers and thoughts go out to this young person's family and loved ones.”

Hospital administrators were not available Monday morning to comment further, as all were in a meeting to discuss the incident and Brattleboro Police said only that the investigation is ongoing. The Brattleboro Reformer reported Monday morning that the girl had been living at the Retreat since November but was not a patient in the state's acute psychiatric unit. Her name and hometown have not been made public.

Continue reading "Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Takes Her Own Life at Brattleboro Retreat" »

December 16, 2013

Burlington Officers Cleared in Fatal Shooting of Mentally Troubled Man


Two Burlington police officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of a New North End resident with a history of mental illness who threatened them with a shovel last month.

At a press conference this afternoon, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan and Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell announced that Cpl. Ethan Thibault was justified in his use of deadly force against 49-year-old Wayne Brunette. Based on a separate investigation by his department, Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said that  neither Thibault nor Cpl. Brent Navari had violated departmental protocol.

After laying out those findings, the law enforcement officials expressed their condolences to Brunette's family and acknowledged the need to improve police responses to incidents where mental illness may play a role.

Continue reading "Burlington Officers Cleared in Fatal Shooting of Mentally Troubled Man" »

December 13, 2013

AG Settles Lawsuit from State Police Taser Death


The Attorney General's Office has paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the companion of an unarmed Thetford man who died after a state trooper shot him with a Taser stun gun in 2012.

The settlement, finalized in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, eliminates the possibility of a trial over claims filed by Theresa Davidonis, who watched her mentally ill boyfriend, Macadam Mason, die after he was shot by a trooper who had been summoned to their house to help.

“The money reflects responsibility on the part of the state police for what they did,” Davidonis' attorney, Tom Costello of Brattleboro, said. “It was not for the death of Macadam, but for the emotional distress that Theresa endured; $30,000 is an amount that’s substantial and reflects a fair resolution in the case, particularly in light of the risk of taking it to a verdict.” 

Continue reading "AG Settles Lawsuit from State Police Taser Death" »

December 12, 2013

Faced with VPR Report, Shumlin Claims He Disclosed Health Exchange Problems in July

DSC06025When he walked into his ceremonial office in the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Peter Shumlin was armed and ready to take on a bunch of pledge drive perpetrators.

Shumlin was there to host a press conference focused on his efforts to fight climate change. But reporters in the room were just waiting to ask him about a Vermont Public Radio story indicating that a state consultant had warned his administration repeatedly since last April that its new health insurance exchange was at risk of failing.

According to documents obtained by VPR's Taylor Dobbs, the problems at Vermont Health Connect were so severe that the contractor, Gartner Consulting, advised state officials on May 22 to "escalate missed deliverable dates or milestones to highest levels within the state and [website developer] CGI."

Here's what reporters wanted to know: Was Shumlin aware that the state's own consultants had issued such dire warnings so long ago? If so, why didn't he disclose the problems to Vermonters? And if he was sufficiently briefed, why did he tell VPR's Bob Kinzel on Nov. 1 that, by Labor Day, "We did not know the magnitude of the challenges we were going to face interacting with the feds, all the other problems we’ve been having."

Evidently anticipating the confrontation, Shumlin brought to Wednesday's press conference a print-out of a July 8 story in the Burlington Free Press. Asked about Dobbs' story, here's what the gov said:

Continue reading "Faced with VPR Report, Shumlin Claims He Disclosed Health Exchange Problems in July" »

December 11, 2013

This Week's Issue: F-35 Aftermath, Myers-Briggs for Farmers and Marijuana Testing


We're in the home stretch of 2013, people. As we at Seven Days plot our year-end coverage, enjoy this week's news and politics stories:

Pick this week's Seven Days up in print, online or on the iOS app.

Cover photo by Sarah Priestap

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