Rocky Hill residents and their elected representatives have used a bill, a lawsuit, and a cold, Wednesday morning rally on the steps of the state Capitol building to try to stop the state from establishing a private nursing home facility in their town to treat ailing prison inmates.
Last year, the state selected a company called SecureCare, a subsidiary of iCare, to run the nursing home facility to house patients from the Correction Department and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The company chose a former nursing home building on West Street in Rocky Hill as the site, according to the Office of Legislative Research.
The facility will cost an estimated $10-12 million a year to operate. Half of that cost will be reimbursed by the federal government under Medicaid.
However, Rocky Hill residents see the facility as a public safety threat, and unions representing correction officers view it as the first step in a plan to privatize their work. Both groups are contesting plans for the new facility.
In December, the town of Rocky Hill filed for an injunction against SecureCare in Hartford Superior Court. The town claims the nursing home company violated its zoning requirements as the building has been vacant a few years and is no longer in compliance.
Last month, Rep. Antonio Guerrera and Sen. Paul Doyle, two Democrats who represent the town in the General Assembly, filed legislation to prevent the state from placing a nursing home serving prison inmates and mental health patients in a residential area without prior approval from a town. The bill is currently awaiting a public hearing in the Public Health Committee.
Wednesday’s rally on the North steps of the Capitol was attended by around 100 Rocky Hill residents and prison officers. It ended with Guerrera and Doyle dropping off a petition in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office before leading the crowd in a “Just say no” chant in the halls of the Capitol. Some of the Malloy’s staff watched the display, but the governor was out of the office.
Opposition to the nursing home pits Guerrera and Doyle against Malloy, a fellow Democrat who supports the initiative. Malloy was frequently criticized for putting money over safety at a rally on Wednesday.
Several Rocky Hill residents spoke about the impact the facility will have on their community. Nicole Crawford, who lives on the same street as the nursing home, said they came to the Capitol so that Malloy would hear their voice on the matter. She said the governor and iCare were putting the safety of Rocky Hill families in jeopardy to save money.
“The state and iCare want to open a privately-owned and privately-run prison hospital that would house rapists, pedofiles, drug dealers, and the mentally ill in a residential neighborhood where children live, play, and go to school,” she said.
Leslie Kerz, another member of the Rocky Hill community, asked if any state government officials would want the same facilities near their homes.
“Fifty feet from where they play baseball with their children. How would they sleep at night?” she asked.
Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s senior criminal justice adviser, said he understood the apprehension town residents were feeling, but he said the people in the nursing home wouldn’t pose much of a threat to the community.
“They’re nursing home patients. We’re talking about the highest level of care,” he said. “People in nursing homes are extremely disabled and more often than not can’t even get out of their beds.”
Lawlor said the Rocky Hill facility is expected to open next week and will eventually house around 95 patients. He said they will be people who would be leaving prison anyway, except that the state has nowhere to put them.
While it’s not uncommon for someone leaving the correction system to be placed in a nursing home, Lawlor said some facilities are reluctant to take them and the population of inmates needing nursing home care has risen starkly in recent years.
But the facility also raises eyebrows among correctional workers who feel the nursing home patients should be housed in a state-run facility, which could be established at one of state’s vacant prisons and staffed by correction workers.
“If you have to put them somewhere then re-open those facilities,” said Joe Vecchitto, a correction officer and member of AFSCME Local 391.
Vecchitto said he was wearing “two hats” at the rally because his mother was in the hospital, which had him thinking about what would happen to her if she had to be placed in a nursing home. He said she would need to pay for it out of her own pocket.
“So maybe what she should do, God forbid, would be to commit a crime, go to jail, and get it for free. It makes no sense to me,” he said.
Lawlor said the inmates would be taking advantage of the same Medicaid program that anyone else with no assets would be using for nursing home care. He said if the state were to reopen a closed prison to create a state-run nursing home, it would not be reimbursed by the federal government.
And while the private facility in Rocky Hill would not be staffed by state correctional workers, Lawlor said he did expect the new jobs would be union positions represented by SEIU 1199.