Rocky Hill residents to rally against inmate facility

Upset about the state’s plans to open a privately run nursing home for prisoners and mentally ill patients, Rocky Hill residents plan to stage a protest rally at the State Capitol Wednesday morning.

Residents living near the nursing home on West Street say they are worried about their safety and who might be visiting the facility, which will be run by iCare of Manchester.

“I’m concerned there will be felons and the mentally ill there,” said Lauren Egan, who lives next door to the nursing home. “I’m concerned about security. I’m curious about who is going to be visiting the felons. It’s so close to people’s houses, they can actually look in the windows.”

Besides inmates, the new nursing home would provide long-term care for  institutionalized mental health patients from Connecticut Valley Hospital. The nursing home was formerly called Haven Health Care and has been vacant in recent years.

The new nursing home would be staffed by a private security team and would exclude the prison system’s unionized prison guards. Mike Lombardo, a correctional counselor in the union, said a private security team would lack the skilled training needed to handle prisoners and related problems such as riots, escapes assaults and narcotics.

“This potentially is a recipe for disaster. It really is,” Lombardo said.

The rally follows neighborhood petitions and a lawsuit the town has filed against iCare. The town is seeking an injunction to stop the plan from moving forward. But the operators of the 95-bed facility are already hiring staff and expect to open in a couple of weeks, said Mike Lawlor, the governor’s criminal justice adviser.

The nursing home’s lawyer, Jonathan Starble, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Lawlor said there is a specific exclusion in the agreement with the state, stating that the nursing home cannot accept dangerous inmates. The inmates who will come to the nursing home are almost all eligible for release, are sick and infirm and require full-fledged nursing care, Lawlor said.

“These are people who, generally speaking, cannot stand up or walk, or are suffering from dementia,” Lawlor said. “Under no circumstances are they going to be walking around in a nursing home.”

The state stands to save money by transferring the inmates to a private nursing home because the federal government will help pay for more of the cost. Normally, if patients are indigent and on Medicaid, the federal government would pay 50 percent of the nursing home cost, Lawlor said. However, patients under state care, such as the inmates, are excluded from the subsidy, he said. By moving the inmates into private care, the federal government will pay for half the cost, an estimated $5.5 million savings for the state.

The rally is scheduled for 11 to 1 p.m. in front of the State Capitol.