Group home for psychiatric patients meets local opposition


DANBY >> Residents in a small southern Vermont community are criticizing a plan to open a group home for psychiatric patients in one of the wealthiest parts of town.

Property owners and community leaders in Danby say psychiatric patients at a proposed group home would bring down their property values. They're targeting state regulators for not stopping the proposal, and they want to keep the group home, called PATH at Stone Summit, from opening.

A real estate listing shows this house at the address where an applicant wants to open a group home for psychiatric patients in Danby.

Annette Smith, an environmental advocate who lives in Danby, said people are "concerned about the types of people who may be coming into town" when the home opens and that residents would likely "escape" the home and likely "go to somebody's home and break in."

Brian Keating, who owns a second home in Danby, has been leading the charge. He said: "These people come and go as they please. There doesn't seem to be any kind of control. And they're medicated. So I don't see the benefit to what the proposed loss is."

April Stein, who declined to comment for this story, wants to open the home for eight people in a rented facility at the top of a hill in Danby. The home would board people in their 20s with psychiatric diagnoses who need to transition from inpatient care to independent life.

Stein submitted an application March 18 seeking a green light from regulators at the Green Mountain Care Board to open the facility without a state-level permit, called a certificate of need. The board decided April 7 it did not have jurisdiction at the time to issue or deny a permit because the annual operating costs of the group home would be less than $500,000.

According to the application, the residents would live on the facility's campus, be discouraged from having cars on campus, and have access to psychiatric services to manage medication. The for-profit facility would not accept government or commercial insurance and would instead bill residents between $450 and $750 a day.

The application describes PATH at Stone Summit as a way to combine vocational rehabilitation and psychiatric care for young adults who have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, comorbid substance abuse or personality disorders. Residents would gradually "return to their own communities feeling a sense of mastery, competence, and personal integrity."

Keating, a resident of White Plains, New York, who owns property a mile from the proposed facility, said his property value would go down by more than half because people would be less likely to buy a home near psychiatric patients.

"Is it right that there's a stigma? It isn't. But you have to deal with what you have to deal with," Keating said. He also said, as an example, that he would also oppose anyone who tried to open a pig slaughterhouse in Danby. But he said he would buy the property from Stein if it would stop her from opening.

Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, represents the area in the Legislature. She said there is "some kind of gap" in the state's regulatory system because the budget for PATH at Stone Summit does not adequately estimate how much to pay a psychiatrist or how much to spend on meals.

Komline also raised questions about how much property values would go down in the area, which she said is one of the wealthiest parts of Danby and contributes significantly to the town's grand list. "I would never want to live next door to a psychiatric facility," she said.

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, a mental health advocate, said it's common for neighbors to fear having people with psychiatric diagnoses in their towns. But she said once group homes open, the neighbors usually realize there aren't any problems.

"I know (discrimination) remains a reality and a struggle," Donahue said. "Even people with disabilities have a right to live somewhere, and the fact that you have a mental health or substance abuse issue doesn't necessarily mean there's a threat."

Danby does not have any zoning laws, and if it did, a state law would pre-empt any local ordinance that sought to keep out the group home. A Vermont anti-discrimination law says that a group home for eight or fewer people with disabilities must automatically be considered a single-family home under town zoning.

Al Gobeille, the chair of the Green Mountain Care Board, said if the operating cost of the group home were more than $500,000 a year, the board would decide whether to go through a formal certificate of need process. And even if that happened, he said, it is very unlikely the board would reject the facility.

"No one has made the case that we have enough mental health or substance abuse treatment in the state," Gobeille said. "Some people have made the case about MRI, emergency rooms, hospitals. Nobody in mental health or substance abuse land has made the case that there's enough."


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