In May of 1958 Bennington Family Service Center and the state-operated Bennington Child Guidance Clinic merged and established United Counseling Service of Bennington County, Inc.
In 1961, UCS entered into a cooperative program with Putnam Memorial Hospital to develop a comprehensive mental health program where UCS psychologists and social workers provided a complete range of counseling services in cooperation with the hospital.
From an original staff of six and a budget of thirteen thousand dollars, UCS has grown steadily with the aid of federal and state grants. Today there are more than 300 staff and a multimillion dollar annual operating budget. This tremendous growth demonstrates real need in the community and our ability to respond to those needs.
The growth of UCS programs and facilities reflects the process of deinstitutionalization in Vermont and nationwide.
Guided by new research and experience clearly showing that treatment in a community setting is more beneficial to the client and is considerably less expensive, the Vermont Dept of Developmental and Mental Health Services (DDMHS) began the policy of deinstitutionalization and moved people into the community.
The department eventually closed the Brandon Training School for people with developmental disabilities and significantly reduced the population at Waterbury State Hospital. When deinstitutionalization began in 1966, there were 1,200 patients at Waterbury, and 660 at Brandon. By mid 1996, this number had dropped to 65 at Waterbury and Brandon was closed.
Deinstitutionalization created economic savings as patients returned to their own communities and began receiving care from their local community mental health center at a much lower cost to the taxpayer.
Admissions from Bennington County to the hospital in Waterbury are among the lowest in the state, reflecting the quality of the comprehensive services this agency provides to prevent or divert institutionalization.
Community-based care requires UCS to provide safe and supportive living arrangements for many Bennington County residents. UCS currently manages 15 facilities—residences of different types and treatment centers—that allow our clients to live and receive services in neighborhoods in as normal a way as possible.
UCS also provides child and family services, and follows the concept of “the least restrictive level of care,” promoted by the Department of Mental Health.
Accordingly, children and youth who, in the past, might have been sent to treatment centers out of the area are served as close to their home community as possible. Therefore, UCS supports an increasing number of children and youth locally through the growing foster care and home— and community-based service system.
UCS is the “designated agency” for community mental health and developmental services in Bennington County.
Because UCS is a private agency, costs to the state are reduced in comparison to other states that run community mental health centers. A private agency model is advantageous in that it is under local control, governed by residents of the community it serves, and can be more flexible at less cost to the taxpayer.
In 1995, UCS changed its corporate structure. United Community Services, Inc. became the parent of three subsidiaries—namely, United Counseling Service, Inc., United Children’s Services, Inc., and United Community Properties, Inc.
United Community Services provides long-range planning, community relations, fundraising, and general oversight of the subsidiaries. This board manages our endowment fund that strengthens and supports all our services.
United Counseling Service provides mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services. United Children’s Services consists of Bennington County Head Start, the UCS Infant and Toddler Center, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Bennington County. United Community Properties provides property management services to the other corporations.
Today, UCS is staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, substance abuse counselors, case managers, residential staff, administrative staff and others.
About one half of our funding for mental health and developmental disabilities programs comes from the Grants from the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Department of Aging and Independent Living. In return for the grant-in-aid funds, the state mandates that we provide a set of essential services for the citizens in our area.
UCS is governed by a Board of Directors—a minimum of nine residents of Bennington County and/or Rensselaer County, New York. It is the board’s responsibility to assure that the agency provides comprehensive services to all citizens in the service area, regardless of the client’s ability to pay. Much of the work of the board is done by its committees.
Each year, the Board embarks its annual fund campaign with a current goal of raising $75,000 in donations from individuals and corporations. This campaign, managed by UCS Community Relations staff, depends on the involvement of the Board members and key staff.
The Board closely monitors the quality of service that UCS provides. So does the Vermont Agency of Human Services, federal representatives, state auditors, and the Council on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
UCS is a member of the Vermont Council of Developmental and Mental Health Services, a trade association for the 10 community mental health centers in Vermont and six other single-purpose special-service organizations.
The Vermont Council lobbies and advocates in the legislature and state agencies on behalf of its member organizations and promotes collaboration and networking among its members.
Public funding from state and federal sources has traditionally supported community mental health services. Beginning with the 1980s, federal block grants were cut for all human services and, in addition, federal revenue sharing and entitlement programs to states and communities were cut back.
This reduction in public funds for programs serving the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled resulted in a crisis and an opportunity. The crisis was nothing less than the death of community mental health as it had been operating for more than twenty years.
The opportunity was for mental health professionals to learn more efficient, cost effective ways of serving clients. Centers developed business relations with the private sector that generated private support for the client who could not afford the full cost of services.
In the end, reductions in public funding have encouraged community mental health agencies to provide better documented, more visible, and more accountable mental health services to the local community.
UCS is proud of the quality and the comprehensive array of services it provides. Our challenge for the future will be to continue to provide high quality services and to attract and support high quality workforce in uncertain economic times.