Letter to the Editor - Winsted Journal - 5-19-17

Spotlight on the decline of mental health services in the NW Corner

Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) has notified staff at Torrington’s local mental health authority on Winsted Road, known in the Northwest Corner as “Western,” that for budgetary reasons she will recommend that it be closed. Western responds to requests for help for the mentally ill in Torrington and surrounding communities. Today in the Northwest Corner it directly supports 350 clients, a number that in the City of Torrington includes direct supervision of 90 persons at especially high risk. 

The 27 case workers and three psychiatrists at Western provide a service that 20 years ago was provided by Fairfield Hills State Hospital in Newtown. Two decades ago Hartford closed Fairfield Hills Hospital, Cedarcrest and Norwich, all of the state’s hospitals for the mentally ill except Connecticut Valley State Hospital in Middletown, which includes Whiting, Connecticut’s one forensic facility. Patients released from hospital returned home to cities, towns and villages promised that they would receive care via a new system of state-run local mental health authorities like Torrington’s Western. 

How was it possible that Hartford could decide mentally ill patients requiring hospitalization could be safely returned to a community setting? When the hospitals were shuttered, advances in available therapies made it possible to address the public’s legitimate concerns and, with proper supervision, to maintain patients in their home communities. 

A whole new class of drugs had become available to treat a range of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Patients who stayed on their medications would not require hospitalization. In addition, the new local mental health authorities were to a great degree staffed by former state hospital doctors, psychologists and social workers. 

The offer of continued employment within the new community-based local system was part of the state’s agreement with the hospital employees’ union. And last but equally important, to backstop the new community-based mental health authorities, local hospitals agreed to reserve some beds (initially five beds at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington) for mentally ill patients requiring a short-term admission.

I am a 79-year-old non-professional living in the Northwest Corner who nonetheless for three decades has involved himself with the delivery of DMHAS services to the mentally ill in the Northwest Corner. In my next letter, I will describe why I have done this and begin to tell you some stories. My history with the state system goes back decades; I have lots of stories to tell, all told with the hope they will inspire you to help me to persuade Hartford to keep Western open.

Wm. Earl Brecher


West Cornwall