In the face of calls to close Connecticut’s two state-run youth psychiatric facilities, Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz proposed Thursday not only to keep them open, but also to expand their utilization.
The move drew tentative support both from children’s advocates and from legislative Republicans who have pushed to close the facilities.
“It’s all about being the most cost efficient,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk. “If she is consolidating other places then maybe we could back this.”
In a report released Thursday, Katz proposed filling more empty beds at Riverview Hospital in Middletown and Connecticut Children’s Place in Windsor by establishing new programs to provide lower-level mental health treatment.
“Both [facilities] have experienced periods within the past five years during which treatment and care have not been at acceptable levels,” she wrote. “By better utilizing existing staff and physical plant resources, more cost-effective care can be delivered.”
She envisions the plans to be finalized over the next four months and said she will report to the state lawmakers by Oct. 1 on the expected savings.
Josh Howroyd, legislative program manager for DCF, said it has not been determined just how many additional slots would be provided for under the new system, but estimated Riverview would see an additional 20 spots for this lower-level treatment.
“The number of children being served will increase,” he said. “There’s a huge number of empty beds… This is a much better utilization.”
The costs to run Riverview has been a hot-button issue at the State Capitol, with Republicans and the bi-partisan panel of lawmakers on the Enhancing Agency Outcomes panel recommending a plan be created for alternatives to Riverview.
Cafero says the $590,000 a year it costs to treat a child at Riverview is proof that something needs to happen.
“That’s insane,” he said, and is reserving final judgement until he has a chance to read the full 48-page report. “I hope her plan will save money.”
Katz’s report shows it costs $73 million a year to keep the facilities open. For the 10 to 15 children living at CCP on any given day, there are 148 full-time and 32 part-time employees.
“Things are totally out of control at this point,” said Sen. Leonard Suzio, the Ranking Republican on the legislature’s Select Committee on Children. “We’ve got to get control of costs and this certainly sounds like a plausible approach… Short of closing it down, making it more efficient is a good step.”
But, he added, he still wants a report that explains what’s causing the high operating costs.
The report does not outline who exactly will be served by these additional slots — both living at the facilities and receiving out-patient treatment –but Katz suggested one possibility would be bringing home 16 girls with psychiatric needs currently placed out-of-state in Massachusetts.
“We do feel there is an opportunity here,” said Howroyd.
The prospect of using Riverview and CCP to bring children back to the state pleased child advocate Martha Stone.
“I am thrilled there is a plan for the first time,” she said.
Katz is also recommending consolidating the central offices, and having Riverview and CCP share administration, a theme she has launched for all of DCF facilities. Those reductions in staff will be realized through attrition and savings projections will be revealed in October.
While enthusiastic with the direction Katz is going, Stone said much work remains for the state to rid itself of 20 years of federal oversight.
“I am glad they are looking at a plan to bring them back,” she said. “But we still need to figure out the whole continuum.”