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New transit in Rutland will help addicts in recovery

The Vermont Agency of Transportation is planning to start a new transit program that will help residents in recovery get where they need to go to keep them on the path away from addiction.

Ross MacDonald, public transit coordinator and the Go Vermont program manager for the agency, said the new program, which will first be introduced in Rutland and the Northeast Kingdom, will work in cooperation with recovery centers and transportation providers.

“The recovery centers, on behalf of their clients, would contact our provider, Marble Valley (Regional Transit Center,) and determine if any trip need is covered through current eligible programs, (like) Medicaid, E&D, the Elderly and Disabled program, regular transit routes. If not, the recovery center would then use their allocation, their budget, to pay for that trip,” MacDonald said.

The Federal Transit Administration has provided $160,000 to fund the program. The grant comes with a 50% match.

The program was discussed at the most recent meeting of Project VISION by representatives of the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, who asked if anyone at the meeting knew of local employers who could help meet the $40,000 match that would be raised in Rutland.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for employers to assist those in recovery so, at the end of the day, they may have more options for their (human resources) departments,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald said as he worked on the program, he was told that employees who were in recovery sometimes work harder than others because they developed a “work ethic” needed to try to recover from their addiction.

The need for more transportation options for people in recovery came from the meetings of Gov. Phil Scott’s opioid coordination council.

Rutland Mayor David Allaire, who was a member of the council until it dissolved in the spring, said the members of the council had been trying to find solutions to some of the barriers that keep people from being successful in their recovery.

“Because we’re a rural state, one of the barriers was transportation. A lot of the folks were having trouble getting back and forth to where they’re getting treatment or to employment, so that was one of the things that we wanted to key in on,” he said.

MacDonald said he represented AOT during working group meetings that included transportation providers, treatment providers and members of the opioid coordination council.

A white paper was written as a result of the meetings with three suggestions. The first was to have coordination meetings to ensure transportation providers are speaking with recovery center staff to make sure those who need transportation are aware of all the available options.

The second recommendation was to reach out to recovery coaches who are working at various recovery centers to determine if they would be willing to join the pool of volunteer drivers who provide more than 40% of the “demand-response” trips provided by AOT, MacDonald said.

“It’s by far the most efficient, cost-effective approach to providing transit,” he said.

The third is the new program being brought to Rutland and the Northeast Kingdom.

MacDonald said the new program is expected to accomplish at least two goals. First is to keep people on the road to recovery which MacDonald said he has been told is a “monumental task.”

The program is expected to make it easier for addicts in recovery to meet the requirements put on them by medical professionals or court orders like making daily trips to get medically-assisted treatment, or MAT, therapy, or getting to their place of employment.

Second, the program will help Vermont officials get a better understand of where there true gaps to getting people in recovery to the services they need.

“We’ll be able to gauge, how close are we currently with providing enough transportation for those in recovery and what do we need statewide. We should be able to learn that in the next year or two,” MacDonald said

Rutland was chosen as one of the initial locations for the project, MacDonald said, because there was need identified in the city but also because the local recovery centers had demonstrated steady leadership. The Marble Valley Regional Transit Center also showed a strong interest in working with AOT, MacDonald said.

Also, the city of Rutland will provide a different source of information than the far more rural Northeast Kingdom.

Rutland business leaders interested in supporting the project can email MacDonald at ross.macdonald@vermont.gov.



Photo by Jon Olender  

Home for the birds

Unit leader Rachel Grantham, of Rutland, right, works on a decorative bird house with her daughter, Lorelei Ploof, 6, Thursday during the Girl Scouts Green Mountain Day Camp at Branbury State Park in Brandon. The camp hosted 90 girls from Vergennes to Rutland over the course of the week at the park.

High court supports ending mother's parental rights

In a decision released last week, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the termination of a mother’s parental rights to a 6-year-old after finding the mother, who has pending federal drug charges, had “not played a constructive role” in the child’s life.

The decision does not name the mother or the child.

According to the decision, the mother has a pending charge in federal court for allegedly selling cocaine. In February, the mother reached an agreement under which she would plead guilty to the charge and the prosecutors would recommend she participate in federal drug court program in Boston that takes 12 months to complete.

The mother has lived in Boston since fall 2018. The decision said the mother and the child have not seen each other in person since the mother left Vermont.

If the mother is not successful in the federal drug court, she would be sentenced to serve at least five years in federal prison.

The mother’s parental rights were terminated after a family court hearing in March.

“(The family court) found that (the child) was strongly bonded to her foster parents and considered their home be her home and a safe place. (The child) struggled in school but was receiving beneficial services in the foster community,” the decision said.

The decision explained why the family court judge found that terminating the mother’s parental rights was “in (the child’s) best interests.”

“The court found that mother would not be able to resume parental duties within a reasonable amount of time because the drug court program would take 12 months and (the child) was in need of permanency now. Further, mother faced significant prison time if she did not succeed in the program. Finally, the court found that mother did not play a constructive role in (the child’s) life. Although mother had previously played a constructive role in (the child’s) life during periods when she was sober, these were irregular and in the past. For most of (the child’s) life she had no contact with mother. Other relatives had raised (the child) and provided her with the emotional support and affection she needed,” the decision said.

The decision provides background on the child and the events that lead to staff from the Vermont Department for Children and Families becoming involved with the family.

The child was born as the “result of a brief, physically abusive relationship between mother and father that centered around using and selling illegal drugs together,” the decision said. The father has not been a part of the child’s life and didn’t contest the termination of his parental rights.

The child was born addicted to opiates as a result of the mother’s heroin use during her pregnancy. The child was taken from Rutland Regional Medical Center to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington because she was suffering from seizures and needed specialized follow-up care but the mother did not bring the child to her appointments.

DCF staff became involved from around the time the child was born and arranged to have visiting nurses care for the child.

But when the child was around 6 months old, the mother was arrested and charged in federal court with distribution of heroin and crack cocaine. The mother was released to the Lund Program in Burlington for treatment but stopped complying with the Lund requirements after 30 days and got arrested again.

The mother was sentenced to 13 months in prison for the federal charges. The child was 1 at the time.

The child was cared for by an aunt in Florida and DCF closed its case.

However, the aunt was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 2017.

“(The aunt’s) death was difficult for (the child) who regarded (the aunt) as her mother,” the decision said.

On Jan. 26, 2018, the child was in the mother’s custody again. They were living in a rented motel room when the mother left to get food before police staged an armed raid.

“The found (the child) in the motel bed within reach of drugs and drugs paraphernalia,” the decision said.

DCF took custody of the child and placed her with another aunt with whom she still lives.

While the mother contested the termination of her parental rights by the Rutland County family court, the Vermont Supreme Court panel found no error by the family court and upheld its decision.

The decision was issued Aug. 7 by a three-member panel and not the full Vermont Supreme Court.



New website
Public to search state lead testing

MONTPELIER — The Scott administration has created a website to monitor the testing of lead levels in schools and child care centers. To date, five schools and 300 child care centers have been tested — and roughly 10% of the tested child care centers had at least one water source that exceeded legal limits, while every tested school had at least one water source above what’s permitted.

This update on testing results so far was issued during a press conference this week in Montpelier.

Following a 2017-18 pilot program that tested for (and detected) lead in the water at 16 Vermont schools, state lawmakers passed a bill this session calling for every facility to be tested. The state has allocated $1 million to help schools replace faulty fixtures.

The state’s threshold for lead is 4 parts per billion, which means it is a stricter standard than the federal “action level” of 15 parts per billion.

“There’s no safe level of lead in the human body at any age,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine. “Lead is a neurotoxin — exposure to lead can slow down a child’s physical growth but it also can cause developmental, learning and behavioral problems.”

Officials said Wednesday that when a facility fails to meet the standard, it’s usually because a single water fountain or faucet fails, not the school’s or center’s entire water system. That makes remediation easier, as a single new fixture can be installed rather than a total replacement of pipes.

The findings provided by state leaders Wednesday only represents a fraction of the locations around Vermont that will ultimately be tested for lead; according to a press release from the governor’s office, about 440 schools and more than 1,200 child care facilities are set to have each drinking or cooking tap tested by December 2020.

The state’s lead results website allows users to search by school or provider name, location and type. Levine said it’s important for parents to be able to easily access the results of their local facilities.

The website is http://leadresults.vermont.gov/

Alzheimer's advocates urge awareness

Jenny Craig said she doesn't remember when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

The 79-year-old resident of The Gables couldn't even say much about what led her to get the diagnosis.

"When you have this, you don't start noticing anything," she said. "You just start to fade. Other people notice it. It doesn't hurt. You just fade."

Craig's short-term memory, at least, held together through an interview on the patio of the Gables on Thursday, and she remains lucid enough to be active in advocacy for Alzheimer's patients and their families. She and her daughter, Betsey Bianchi - who also serves as her caregiver - will be among the participants early next month in the Walk to End Alzheimer's.

The walk is scheduled for Sept. 7, with registration opening at 9 a.m. in Main Street Park and the opening ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. Organizer Jeannie Stimpfel said there is no fee for joining the 1- or 2-mile walks.

"It's a loop, so we don't get lost," Craig quipped.

Donations are appreciated, and many walkers raise money for the event. Walkers who raise $100 get a T-shirt, with other prizes available for raising more.

Stimpfel said organizers have set a goal of raising $44,000.

"Last year we raised - I think it was $35,000. We have some growth to do here. ... Right now, we've got 76 participants. Most folks register the day of the walk. We're hoping for 275 to 300 people the day of the walk."

Stimpfel said the Alzheimer's Association spends 6% of the money it raises on administrative costs and another 17% on publicity to promote fundraising, with the remaining 77% going toward Alzheimer's care support, research, awareness and advocacy.

Craig is originally from New Jersey, where she had a career as a social worker.

"I was part of the group that established the whole idea of what school social work was about," she said. "We created the diagnosis and what needed to be done for kids with learning disabilities and school difficulties. ... My daughter came up here for college and stayed."

Bianchi, who works in IT at Rutland Regional Medical Center, said she started noticing the changes in her mother about five years ago during a visit to Vermont. Bianchi said her mother was forgetting their plan for the day or things that had just been said a moment before in conversation.

"Not all the time, but something was not quite right," she said.

Bianchi said Craig's doctor in New Jersey refused to screen her for Alzheimer's, saying "it didn't matter anyway because there was no cure for it." So in November 2015, Bianchi got Craig tested at a clinic in Bennington. The tests came back positive and, despite what the New Jersey doctor said, the diagnosis mattered.

"First of all, you know you're not crazy," Bianchi said. "She gave up driving herself. She got her finances in order. She moved up here."

Craig also enrolled in a clinical trial for an experimental drug, but was dismissed from the trial when she had an adverse reaction.

"It's still a good thing because that gives them information on what can make the drug better," Bianchi said.

Craig makes no effort to paint a rosy picture of the disease or even sanitize the experience - she calls it "dreadful" and "disgusting" - but maintains what she calls her "Irish sense of humor," talking about how she still reads The New York Times daily, even if she has to read the same article several times and "even if it pisses me off." She repeatedly talked about trying to hold on to who she is, and she said she found a way to do that in how she reacts to the Alzheimer's.

"I'm a social worker," she said. "The most I can do with this stupid disease is to help people know about it. ... It's affecting a lot of people and it's not going away."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.8 million Americans have the disease and one senior in three has it at the time they die.

Bianchi said she checks in with her mother daily, writing out a plan for the day and putting it on her refrigerator, doing her shopping, making sure she takes her pills and "keeping a weather eye out." Bianchi said she also makes sure her mother has fun - even if Craig answered a question about what she does for fun by saying "Nothing - it's not fun anymore." Bianchi recalled taking her mother to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and seeing a big smile cross her face.

"You might not remember it the next day, but you loved it at the time," she told her mother. "You have to live in the moment for whatever that moment is."

Bianchi reminded Craig about the pride she shows attending her grandson's baseball games.

"It keeps me alive that I still can understand that and take joy," she said "It's a horrible disease, but you shouldn't be afraid of it, and we need to break the stigma. ... It's much better to face it than deny it. Come join us and be hopeful."

Rail topper

Robby Kelley, of Starksboro, a 29-year-old world-class skier, looking for a temporary career change, joined the Spartans at football camp Thursday in Castleton to begin training for a nine-game football schedule set to begin Sept. 7. B1


Green thumb

On-farm workshops are growing more than just healthy soil; they’re contributing to a growing knowledge base and skill set among growers at all scales. C1


Literary giant

“From the first page, my view of literature was fundamentally altered. It was like [Toni] Morrison had broken down what I thought a novel could be and rebuilt it into something more magnificent than I dreamed possible.” C7

Rail — VT ARTS

Vermont ties

Two films featured at this year’s Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival later this month have connections to the Green Mountain State. D1