Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s transition team got a preview Monday of a tug-of-war the new governor will have to referee for the next four years.
Advocates for public- and private-sector social services workers offered competing recommendations on how to finance and deliver state-sponsored human services amidst lean budget conditions.
During a presentation at the state Veterans’ Home and Hospital in Rocky Hill, the leader of one of the largest, private, nonprofit agencies in Connecticut called for redeploying resources to the private sector in the coming years as state workers retire.
Less than 30 minutes later, an official with Connecticut’s largest healthcare workers’ union said it was important to preserve a broad spectrum of care across all sectors, though the state could seek to reduce duplicative administration costs among the hundreds of private, nonprofit providers.
Lamont’s transition team received the first of three days of briefings Monday from working groups studying a myriad of policy issues. The proposals of these groups — comprised of volunteers from business, labor, academic health care and government settings — then will be reviewed by the new governor’s team for possible inclusion in the administration’s agenda.
“Connecticut can build a world-class human services system with high-quality, individualized supports … if the administration empowers change, which we certainly want to be a participant in,” said Barry Simon, CEO at Hartford-based Oak Hill School, one of the largest nonprofit agencies serving clients with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Connecticut can “unleash the next wave of innovation that will strengthen communities,” if it takes advantage of a predicted surge of state employee retirements in 2021 and 2022, and if it redeploys resources to the private, nonprofit sector, Simon said.
“Connecticut can no longer afford to do business as usual,” he said.
But labor leaders often counter that human services is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor and that the state often must treat individuals with the most challenging conditions or problems — simply because no one else will.
Deborah Schwartz, vice president and home care director for SEIU Healthcare 1199NE (known for many years as New England Healthcare Employees Union District 1199) said Connecticut needs to focus on greater investment in health care — across the board.
The union represents workers in both the public- and private-sector, she said, and “cuts to the public sector further increases fragmentation” of a health care system that already has undergone significant cutbacks.
Schwartz noted that more than 2,000 developmentally disabled citizens are “mired” on controversial state waiting lists for those in need of residential placements. Most on that list are middle-aged patients cared for most of their lives by parents who now are elderly.
That waiting list is approximately one-third longer than it was about 15 years ago.
Schwartz also said the Lamont administration could improve care for the disabled and others by imposing better training standards and worker pay. She noted that some social service workers qualify for welfare, food stamps, heating assistance and other government-sponsored benefits because their pay is so poor — a reference to the private, nonprofits’ social workers, who generally earn much less than their state-employed counterparts.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Lamont transition team, said she was neither surprised nor dismayed by the competing recommendations.
“One of the things the governor elect and the lieutenant governor elect wanted to do was to bring all of the people they could around the table,” she said. “So we wanted to air out all sorts of issues.”
After enacting major tax hikes in 2011 and 2015, the General Assembly has since tried to hold the line on spending outside of surging pension and other debt costs — a process that has resulted in cutbacks in funding for social services provided both by state employees as well as by the private, nonprofit sector.
The two sides, once allies in lobbying for greater state investment in programs for the developmentally disabled, patients suffering from addiction and mental illness and others , now find themselves increasingly in competition for scarce resources.
After Monday’s forum, representatives of both sides challenged the other’s assertions.
Gian-Carl Casa, president and chief executive officer of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, balked at the suggestion that the preponderance of community-based agencies was driving up the cost of care, saying the problem lies in Connecticut’s public-private, mixed approach.
“Most states don’t have a state system and a nonprofit system,” Casa said, adding that a 2012 report from the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee found the level of care at nonprofit group homes for the developmentally disabled to be as good as or better than that in state-owned group homes.
Mary Ann Duval, an organizer for 1199, said talk of “redeploying” resources to the private sector should not fool anyone. “It sounds like a reduction to the public-sector because they clearly would not be replacing” those who retire, she said, adding this would be a mistake. “We need a full spectrum of care if we are going to serve all of the people.”
Walker said Monday’s briefing “is not the final report,” but rather just the first step in a sweeping, policy research effort.