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The legislature’s Public Health and Human Services Committees held an all day hearing Thursday on Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s decision to close two detox facilities, Cedarcrest Hospital in Newington, and High Meadows Residential Treatment Center in Hamden.

The two committees also listened to parents and state workers upset by the decision to transition 17 group homes for the developmentally disabled to private nonprofit providers.

Rep. Toni Walker, co-chairwoman of the Human Services Committee, said there’s no logic behind some of these decisions, which were made mostly in an effort to save the state money.

Nobody consulted the families with loved ones residing in these facilities before making this decision, she said.

Developmental Services Commissioner Peter O’Meara told the committees that it costs more for the state to run these homes than it costs the private nonprofit providers. In addition, the transition of these homes became necessary as a result of the state’s early retirement program, O’Meara said.

None of the unionized state workers will lose their jobs as the homes are sold to private nonprofit providers, but a spokesman for the union said it’s not about the jobs.

Christine Stuart photo

Debra Chernoff, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1199, said it’s about the clients, like Mary Ann Barile’s son Vinny.

“I think replacing the staff will be devastating for him,” Barile said. “It’s not about the physical structure, it’s about the relationships he has with the staff.”

Nonprofit community providers say they will offer the same high-quality care, currently offered by the state. Approximately, 42 providers have submitted letters of intent to provide services to the homes, O’Meara said.

Barry Simon, executive director of Gilead Community Services, said he doesn’t think it’s useful to pit the public employees against the private providers. However, he did point out that the state seems to be shifting services to providers at the same time it is flat funding them.

“The true issue is with a long term solution for funding any services state or private,” Simon said. 

Sen. Jonathan Harris, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, agreed.

“There needs to be a larger discussion about the reinvention of government,” Harris said. “We need to sit down and figure out how we can be a better government that meets the needs of our residents with quality services.”

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Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Thomas Kirk said he was still going over the numbers for the closure of the Blue Hills and Connecticut Valley Hospital detox facilities.

Concerned that the closure of Blue Hills would mean there will be no public detox facilities in the Greater Hartford area, Kirk said he was still assessing the issue before submitting the certificate of need to the Office of Health Care Access.

Irene Wilson, a registered nurse at the Connecticut Valley Hospital facility, said forcing alcohol and drug addicts to detox on the street could lead to their death. She said emergency rooms apply a band aid approach and do not know how to properly detox patients like the experienced staff at CVH.

“We open doors for recovery. Please don’t shut them,” Wilson told legislators.

Many of the legislators were concerned about the increase in those with substance abuse showing up in emergency rooms with no where to go.

There was also concern about the closure of High Meadows, a round-the-clock nursing and medical care facility for boys with serious emotional and behavioral problems.

Bob Genzano of High Meadows said 20 percent of the population at High Meadows have failed at their out-of-state placements and 90 percent are going to facilities out-of-state with a lower level of care.

“These decisions are harming our children,” Genzano said.

Walker was equally concerned about High Meadows.

“We’re going to have to address this with the governor,” Walker said. She said when one of these children is shipped out-of-state the state is still paying for their education and their health care, so the child is being shipped “out-of-state with our tax dollars.”

“It’s sad that she’s attacking the mentally ill,” Walker added referring to the governor.