The union representing health care workers at a state-run detoxification unit on the campus of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown is planning a rally for Wednesday in protest of a plan to close the facility.
The New England Health Care Union, District 1199, will host the rally at noon outside of Merritt Hall, which houses a 110-bed substance abuse detox and rehabilitation facility.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s alternative budget balancing plan, released Friday, includes a proposal to cut 80 beds from that program, 20 detox beds and 60 that are designated for rehabilitation patients. The proposal would leave intact a 30-bed substance abuse program for women known as STAR.
The union rally is one of several District 1199 is planning for this week that are aimed at letting the public know about the cuts and how many of the money-saving programs in Malloy’s two-year budget would harm the needy and at-risk populations in Connecticut, said Debroah Chernoff, a District 1199 spokeswoman.
Most of the patients who seek out the detox and rehabilitatio programs run by the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services at CVH don’t have insurance or other resources to enter private programs, Chernoff said.
“As the list (of layoffs) comes out it’s becoming clear that what they’re doing is not laying off people by seniority but by program,” she added. “These are the very kinds of community-based programs that are supposed to be the wave of the future. These are the kinds of services that keep people from committing crimes and from getting into bigger trouble. It’s a very short-sighted solution.”
Hundreds of health care workers, some with more than 30 years on the job, would also lose their jobs as a result of the elimination of those beds, she said.
Workers at the CVH facility declined to comment Monday referring questions to a DMHAS spokesman. That spokesman did not return requests for comment.
The DMHAS also operates a 42-bed substance abuse facility in Hartford which would not be cut under Malloy’s budget proposal. Under the plan, 136 full- and part-time employees at the CVH facility would lose their jobs. The budget-cutting proposal would save $8 million this year and $11 million in 2012. Malloy is trying close a $1.6 billion budget shortfall that was created when the state’s public employee unions rejected an agreement the governor forged months ago with union leaders for wage and benefit concessions by unionized state workers.
Other programs on the chopping block as part of Malloy’s budget plan including closing several branches of the Department of Motor Vehicles, shuttering ferry services over the Connecticut in Rocky Hill/Glastonbury and Chester/Hadlyme, as well as steep cuts in the state’s vocational and technical high school system.
Once the Merritt facility is closed, the people in need of those substance abuse services will either end up in local hospital emergency rooms, which are not equipped to handle such patients’ long-term needs, or they could spiral further into addiction, Chernoff said.
“The people who use these services are not people who have the insurance or the resources to go to places like the Betty Ford Clinic. These are essential health care services that have an impact on the individual, their families and their communities and we wind up paying for their care one way or the other.”
Valerie Smith, a program coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Middletown, said many of those who come to St. Vincent de Paul, which operates a soup kitchen, have been treated at the state-run detox and rehab center at Merritt. The steep cuts proposed for the program, she said, would represent a setback to efforts to help the homeless here.
“The good thing about it is that if you don’t have insurance they still take you in and they help you,” Smith said. “If you don’t have insurance you at least could get in there. It’s a great program, people have had success coming out of there.”
In 2009 District 1199 rallied against a plan by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell to shut down 20 of the inpatient beds at the Merritt facility. Rell eventually abandoned that plan.
“The rationale then for keeping the beds open isn’t different from the rationale now,” Chernoff said. “These are the very kinds of services that save money over the long run because they keep people out of prisons.”