VINCE GILMER UPDATE
After a near decade-long legal battle to get Vince out of prison and into treatment, in January 2022, on his last day in office, Governor Ralph Northam granted Vince Gilmer clemency, allowing Vince to be released from prison to a mental health facility. For the last 14 months, though technically a free man, Vince has remained in prison, wheelchair-bound and suffering from late-stage Huntington’s disease.
His transfer has been complicated because the Virginia Departments of Corrections and Mental Health do not see it as their responsibility to facilitate a transfer to one of their public hospitals. They have explicitly expressed that they have “no duty” to help with Vince’s placement. As a result, it has been almost impossible to get him out. Crossing state lines from a hospital to a hospital is much easier than going from a Virginia prison to a NC hospital. Unfortunately, the NC public mental health system cannot accept him until he establishes residency in NC.
Through his window, Vince can see one of Virginia’s finest public mental health hospitals, the Southwestern Mental Health Institute, which is on the prison campus only a stone’s throw away.
In order to return to North Carolina, Vince must be admitted to a private hospital first where he can be stabilized and treated before being transferred to either a NC public facility, Veteran’s facility or a private long-term care facility. To make this happen, we needed money and an acceptance letter to assure the Virginia attorney general’s office that we had sufficient resources and a clinical setting to support Vince’s needs.
I am grateful for the nearly 1,500 people who came together through the incredible publicity efforts of Quentin Quarantino and People Magazine. Our GoFundMe Campaign has raised over a $100,000 which has been essential to opening up doors for Vince. After several rejections by multiple private and public facilities in Western North Carolina, including a four-month negotiation with Mission Hospital (HCA) in Asheville whose CEO, psychiatrist and mental health team, as well as my group’s (MAHEC) inpatient medical team, advocated for his transfer back to the community that he served. In February of this year, Mission reversed their decison and decided not to accept Vince as a patient.
I am explaining this now because in the paperback print of my book, “The Other Dr. Gilmer,” (to be released on March 7th, 2023) I write a new postscript conclusion:
In the fall of 2022, I approached the lead psychiatrist at Mission Hospital in Asheville, who asked me about Vince. She had just read this book., she said, and had been moved by it.
“What can I do to help?” she asked.
Over the ensuing months, we had numerous meetings: with lawyers, public relations teams, the CEO, the psychiatry team, the Virginia attorney general, state public health officials, and other hospitals.
And then, the week before Thanksgiving, Mission Hospital officially decided to take Vince as a transitional step to long-term care. Eleven months after Northam’s clemency reversal, after nearly nineteen years of incarceration, Vince would begin his healing journey, and it would be in his own community hospital.
He was getting out.
After this heartbreaking rejection, I learned that Vince honorably served in the Army for four years, and was a candidate for the VA Medical system. I immediately called one of their psychiatrists who was a close friend from medical school. Her response and the psychiatry team was completely different: “we want to do what is right for our veterans and don’t care where he is coming from, whether that be a prison or another hospital.” After interviewing him on Zoom, they saw Vince as a patient who was struggling for his life, as a veteran in need.
Vince is likely the only incarcerated person in America who has lived and continues to live in prison as a clemency granted – free man – for more than a year. He is also a human with a terminal illness, and struggles to walk, yet still remains behind bars, now in his 19th year of incarceration. This is Cruel and Unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth amendment.
Vince Gilmer’s story illuminates the plight of hundreds of thousands of mentally ill patients incarcerated in US prisons, where they suffer from a system that is designed to punish, not heal. We are hopeful that he will be accepted soon by a hospital in North Carolina and/or a specialized Huntington’s Hospital in New York City. Our ultimate goal is to stabilize and treat him, then move him to a Veteran’s skilled nursing facility who has expressed interest in him but can’t take him until he has been a NC resident for 24 months.
I am grateful for all of you who have supported our efforts to free Vince over the years and your amazing contributions to his campaign. Eventually, every dollar, and more, will be spent on his care. I am also grateful for the many Huntington’s experts and social workers who have played important roles in supporting Vince. Special thanks to Dr. Mary Edmonson, Dr. Daniel Claassen, HDSA, and the NC HD Reach team.
Now, as Vince’s legal guardian, I hope to have a definitive update very soon and a photo of Vince proudly leaving the prison! In the meantime, please send Vince a letter or note if you can. He is feeling very down now and any support with your words would be very helpful to him:
Dr. Vince Gilmer # 1190607, MCTC, 110 Wright St, Marion VA. 24354
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