MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A former mental health patient told an advisory panel Monday that a proposed rule change offered by the state is designed to make it easier for hospitals to drug psychiatric patients against their will and compared patients who will be subjected to such treatment to animals.
"Being treated like a veterinary patient is not going to help the person have buy-in and trust," Xenia Williams, of Barre, told the meeting of a panel advising the state Department of Mental Health as it considers lifting a requirement that a physician personally observe a patient before psychiatric drugs are administered.
"They want it to be as convenient as possible and as cheap as possible -- get 'em in, drug 'em and get 'em out," said Williams, a former patient who also told the Mental Health Transformation Council, "I'm vehement about this because I've been force-drugged."
The rule was in place at the former Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, which was closed after being flooded by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Since then, the state has moved to a more dispersed mental health system, relying on the emergency departments and mental health wings of Vermont's other private, nonprofit hospitals.
Hospitals have said they can't recruit -- or afford -- enough psychiatrists to have them available 24/7. The new rules would allow nurse practitioners or physicians' assistants to make the decision to medicate patients, or place them in seclusion or restraints.
A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Rules drafted by the department and put before the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee for review in September were withdrawn in the face of criticism from mental health advocates. Since then, Mental Health Commissioner Paul Dupre said he and other department officials have been working to reach consensus with the advocates. Another draft is expected to be presented to the committee next month.