Christine Stuart photo

Caregivers, parents, and lawmakers gathered Tuesday outside the Department of Developmental Services in East Hartford to protest the state’s plan to privatize 17 group homes and close six others.

“Stop the greedy. Save the needy,” the protesters chanted as they paraded along Pitkin Street.

Parents and group home supervisors said they are worried about how changes on the horizon will impact the estimated 100 intellectually disabled individuals who live in the homes, while Democratic lawmakers like Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, vowed to help reverse the decision.

The plan is expected to save the state $5 million and was announced last week by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration.

A statement issued by the Department of Developmental Services says privatization will have little impact on clients or employees and was necessary because the early retirement incentive offered to state employees to help close the budget deficit left the agency short staffed in other areas.

“Under the conversion plan, no DDS employees will lose their job and individuals served by DDS will remain in their current residences,” the emailed statement says. “The department is committed to selecting qualified providers to assume responsibility for these homes and residents.”

Click here to read more about how SEIU District 1199 New England Health Care Employees Union, which represents the state employees in the state agency, reacted to that issue.

Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for SEIU District 1199, said if the homes are privatized familiar staff will be gone and wages and benefits in the private sector will drop as the state pays the lowest bidder to run these homes. She said the good wages and benefits received by state employees at these homes boosts wages across the board.

Shelia Small, a mother of a 28-year-old son with Down syndrome, said it’s not easy for a mentally challenged adult to transition. She said the staff at her son’s group home have been everything to her son. “Break up this bond and you’ll break hearts,” Small said. “This is worse than a mistake. It is unjust.”

The privatization plan was announced last week by the Rell administration, but had it been announced a few months ago one lawmaker said he doesn’t know if state employees would have agreed to the wage concessions and early retirement package.

Geragosian said it’s disingenuous for Rell to be doing this in the midst of closed-door budget negotiations with lawmakers. He said an increased income tax on the states wealthiest residents could prevent this from happening.

The legislature’s Democratic majority proposed a progressive income tax to increase the state’s relatively flat 5 percent rate, but Rell has said repeatedly that she already has put on the table all the taxes she will support. Rell’s tax proposal announced last week increases taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and corporations for a period of three years.

Aside from the budget issues, Chernoff wondered who would be bidding on the state’s request to run these homes because the state has failed to increase its payments to private providers.

“While this type of dramatic change is never easy, over 80 percent of Connecticut’s group homes are currently administered by community providers whose dedicated staff provides quality care to the people they serve,” the Connecticut Community Providers Association said in a statement Tuesday.
 
“Community provider-run group homes are held to equal and in some cases higher standards than their state-run counterparts. The residents at the affected facilities and their loved ones can be assured that community provider staff will do all they can to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.”

In 2003 during the state’s last recession 30 group homes were privatized.