Oak Hill School in Hartford, the largest nonprofit agency serving the developmentally disabled.
Oak Hill of Hartford has received only 50 masks for 1,400 employees. Other nonprofits also report a lack of PPE and say the state has failed to keep its promise.

Nonprofit social service agencies have accused Gov. Ned Lamont with failing to deliver personal protective gear he pledged two weeks ago, placing thousands of staff and disabled clients at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Since the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance warned April 21 that agencies were approaching financial collapse — partly from having to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) at inflated prices — most “have gotten little or nothing” from state agencies, said Gian-Carl Casa, its president and CEO.

“These are health care professionals working closely with people who are very vulnerable,” Casa said. “These are frontline people.”

Oak Hill of Hartford, the state’s largest nonprofit social services provider with about 30,000 clients and 1,400 staff, has received 50 masks from the state, said Barry Simon, Oak Hill president.

Windsor-based Community Health Resources, which operates methadone clinics and provides 100 group home beds for the mentally ill and drug addicted, has only received enough PPE from the state to cover about 20% of its needs, said president and CEO Heather Gates. 

“When we receive PPE it is in dribs and drabs,” Gates said.

Lamont responded to the complaints Thursday by saying that while it’s premature to consider an across-the-board rate hike for nonprofits they haven’t been forgotten.

“They’re key to everything we’re trying to do,” said the governor, who also must contend with huge state budget deficit projections because of the pandemic. And while Connecticut can’t afford more money for these agencies now, state officials are urging banks to prioritize nonprofits for emergency federal small business assistance loans.

Heather Gates, president of the mental health agency Community Health Resources, speaking at a press conference about the state budget in 2015.

Connecticut spends about $1.4 billion per year contracting with community-based, nonprofit agencies to provide the overwhelming bulk of state-sponsored social services.

Funding has grown much more slowly than inflation has over the past two decades. And Casa, whose alliance represents about 300 nonprofits, held a press conference on April 21 warning the pandemic had pushed some providers to the brink of collapse.

Many nonprofits receive a significant portion of their state funding on a “fee-for-service” basis. Rather than receiving a fixed, quarterly payment that covers all programs, many agencies receive a portion of their funds based on the number of clients served on a daily or other incremental basis.

The pandemic has left many agencies hemorrhaging revenue and furloughing staff.

And nearly all are scrambling for PPE, finding far too little and paying far too much for whatever is available.

Oak Hill reported more than $60,000 in PPE expenditures after spending $2,500 in the previous fiscal year. Another large nonprofit, Ability Beyond of Bethel — which serves about 3,000 developmentally disabled clients in Connecticut and New York —reported spending more than $90,000 on protective gear.

Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operations officer, said two weeks ago that state agencies had just received “significant deliveries” of protective equipment and expected to increase contributions to all health care providers shortly.

But Casa said this aid never materialized in any significant way.

“We’ve heard from agency after agency ‘it’s on its way, it’s on its way,’” Casa said, adding rarely does the gear actually arrive.

About 30% of the requests Connecticut has received for PPE, from nonprofits and other providers, have been granted to date, Geballe said Thursday. 

“We’ve been fulfilling dozens and dozens of orders every day,” he added.

Lamont hinted the state’s PPE stores might grow considerably this weekend, improving the situation for health care providers, but he did not offer specifics.

But nonprofits say they’re losing hope.

“Our experience to date has been we cannot count on the state to supply us with what we need,” said Gates.

CHR, which has 860 employees, has reduced the demand for PPE somewhat by having some staff work from home while others use social distancing on the job.

But she still has scarce supplies for about 200 workers who badly need it, Gates said, asking “and what happens when we reopen?”

Methadone clinics will not turn away clients, she said. Group home staff working with the mentally ill and substance abuse patients won’t abandon them.

CHR announced more than 50 employee furloughs in late April. Gates and other nonprofit leaders said job losses throughout the industry are shrinking programs for all categories of clients.

“We’re assuming we’re on our own,” she said.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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