Christine Stuart photo
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven (Christine Stuart photo)

Labor leaders, parents, and legislators won a small victory Friday in their fight to keep a 42-bed residential treatment facility open in Hamden.

At an Office of Health Care Access hearing on the closure of High Meadows, Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for District 1199 SEIU, asked the commissioner for permission to intervene. To her surprise the request was granted and the hearing was postponed until Oct. 19.

Chernoff hopes this gives parents and employees more time to make their argument in favor of keeping the facility open because “behind the numbers there are real people.”

“The closing of High Meadows is a cruel termination of vitally needed services for some of our most vulnerable youth,” Kathryn Fenton, a special education teacher, said Friday.

By closing the facility the state would save $6 million in operating costs and $11 million in capital costs, Gary Kleeblatt, spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, said.

However, Kleeblatt said that’s not the entire reason behind the agency’s desire to close the facility. He said the reality is the “service system for children with complex needs has really changed a lot.”

Many more at-home and community-based services for these children exist and there’s less of a need for residential treatment facilities, Kleeblatt said.

“It really has to do with the way we want to provide services,” he said. “This is not a reflection on the staff there who have done some great work.”

But it’s hard for Robert Genzano, a rehabilitation therapist, not to take it personally.

Genzano who will still have a job with the state when the facility is closed, said the real problem is that the state is sending 324 children to out-of-state facilities that provide a level of care lower than that of High Meadows.

“High Meadows is the gold standard,” Genzano said. “There have been numerous attempts to mix us in with levels of care which simply can not provide the level of expertise that we do.”

He said there aren’t enough beds in the private sector to take care of these children.

“The High Meadows facility provides unique and much needed residential services for boys with complex emotional, behavioral, and medical issues,” Speaker of the House Chris Donovan wrote in his testimony to the Office of Health Care Access. “No other facility in the State of Connecticut is designed or equipped to handle these young patients who need a wide variety of treatment.”

And while Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed closing High Meadows to save the state money, the legislature’s Democratic majority put the funding back into the budget.

“Whether the Governor has the authority to close a facility that has been properly funded in our budget is open to debate,” Donovan wrote in his testimony.

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said the question of executive verses legislative power may still be up for debate, but what’s clear to her is that “this plan has not been thoroughly looked into.” She said there was no viable transition offer from the Department of Children and Families on Friday.

Kleeblatt said some of the children will be discharged to Connecticut Children’s Place in East Windsor, which is another state run facility for abused and neglected children, or they will go into private residential treatment facilities and a handful will return home where they will receive community services. Currently, there are only 18 children at High Meadows, he said.

“It is not enough to say somewhere in the system there are beds,” Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire, said.

She said what happens when the emergency room won’t take them and the private residential treatment facility won’t take them. “How are we going to ensure that this most vulnerable population have a guaranteed place to go?” Esty said.

She said DCF needs to provide some more answers about this.