Residents want local approval power over inmate nursing home

Feeling duped and fearful of the state’s plan to move inmates and mentally ill patients into a former nursing home without zoning approval, Rocky Hill neighbors and town leaders testified Friday for a bill that would require local site approval.

Lawmakers representing Rocky Hill proposed the bill to prevent the state from opening similar prison nursing homes in the future.

“I don’t mean to make you scared, but beware: this is the first step of many more institutions like this,” warned Sen. Paul R. Doyle, D-Rocky Hill, who proposed the bill with Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Department of Correction plan to place infirm inmates who are near parole and mentally ill patients from the Connecticut Valley Hospital in the 95-bed nursing home. The home is privately owned and will be privately run by iCare Inc. of Manchester.

Neighbors are up in arms about the plan, saying it poses a safety threat, devalues property and circumvents the local zoning process. The town and neighbors have filed lawsuits to try to block the plan, but so far the judge has denied attempts to stop it.

Nicole Crawford, who lives with her husband and two children across the street from the nursing home on West Street, braved the snowstorm to testify at the hearing, held at Wesleyan University.

She said she is concerned that the nursing home will house criminals and mentally ill patients with a wide array of offences including violent felonies and sexual offenses. She is worried because there is no fence, and security will be provided by unarmed, private guards.

“I would like to tell you what this proposed facility has done. This facility has brought fear anxiety and anger to my family and fellow residents,” Crawford said, her voice shaking with emotion.

During the public health committee hearing, Patricia Rehmer, the Mental Health and Addiction Services commissioner, said the facility is actually a nursing home and the patients all will have to meet strict standards for be eligible for admittance. She said there will be 10 mentally ill patients initially. None are considered dangerous.

“We will not take any individuals who exhibit any violent behaviors,” Rehmer said.

All have been diagnosed with dementia, she said, noting that the nursing home will have a locked unit for patients with dementia and behavioral health disorders.

These patients are currently housed at the Connecticut Valley Hospital because all of the other nursing homes in the state have refused to accept them because of their behavior historically, she said.

They do not need the acute care level provided by Connecticut Valley Hospital, which charges them $1,200 a day to stay there.

The state would save an estimated $5.5 million by moving the inmates from a state facility into private care because the federal government would then pay for half the cost through Medicaid.

Due to concerns raised by the neighbors, Rehmer said her department has worked with a forensic psychiatrist to develop an additional risk assessment tool to determine who can come to the nursing home. Not all the patients are at the end of their life and they need a range of nursing home care.

“People with psychiatric disabilities are really no more dangerous to the community than anybody else,” she said.

She explained that her department did not initially reveal to the town that the patients were mentally ill so as not to violate the HIPPA patient privacy law.

She also said the state has no plans to open similar nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

During the hearing Sen. Jason C. Welch, R-Bristol, expressed concerns about the plan and questioned Rehmer’s insistence that the facility is only a nursing home.

“I gotta tell you it feels like it’s not a nursing home,” he said.

Committee Chairwoman Susan M. Johnson, D-Windham, raised concerns about whether the nursing home might not perhaps be able to fill all its beds in the future and regular patients might be placed there eventually, forced to take the first bed that opens up.

Michael Lawlor, the governor’s criminal justice adviser, said before the hearing that the nursing home will have a security staff and a parole officer. He said the inmates there will be are eligible for release and will all be sick and debilitated.

“I’m sure once it’s open and people see what’s actually happening there, rather than what they envision will happen there, I’m sure there will be a lot less apprehension,” Lawlor said.