Darien Debates Funding Mental Health Partnership with Silver Hill, New Canaan

DARIEN — The town is considering a partnership with Silver Hill, a 129-bed non-profit psychiatric hospital in New Canaan, that local officials hope will ease access for Darien residents to timely mental health services, even as some officials are voicing concerns that the proposal won’t be enough to address what could be overwhelming demand for mental health services.  Dr. Andrew Gerber, president of Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, presented the idea to the Board of Selectmen in a meeting on May 16.  The program, which is being piloted in neighboring New Canaan beginning July 1, will offer five three-hour

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Third Death in Two Months Puts Focus on Youth Mental Health at Darien High School

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DARIEN — About 300 community members joined a Zoom call on Monday evening focused on recognizing and discussing warning signs of suicide and mental health struggles in children and adolescents.  The call was in response to the death of Hayden Thorsen, a 16-year-old sophomore at Darien High School. Superintendent of Schools Alan Addley said in a statement on Monday that Thorsen’s death was “a heartbreaking loss.”  “This is the third student that the school has grieved in the past two months.  The pain of losing these beautiful young lives is unbearable. It is devastating for the families, the school and

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Legislators Pass Far-reaching School and Mental Health Bill

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Expansion for school-based health centers. A grant for minority teachers. Tax breaks for early childcare centers and wage supplements for their workers. A remote learning option for elementary schoolers (but no more hybrid teaching).  These are a few of the items passed into law on Tuesday in two bills focused on recruiting more mental health workers in schools, expanding teacher diversity and supporting early childcare centers and their workers.   The bills, which received broad bipartisan support, did raise concerns among some lawmakers regarding the parental role and consent in the care of children.  Senate Bill 1 includes grants to help

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The Death of their Child Sparks Creation of a Mental Health Nonprofit

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FAIRFIELD — After Jim and Kristen Kuczo’s son, Kevin, took his own life in February 2021, Jim started to see his son’s experience reflected across the country — a 16-year-old in Brunswick, Maine. An 18-year-old in Chicago.  All were stories of teenagers who had been good students, athletes – young men who were making plans for the future. In all three cases, the parents said that isolation from COVID had exacerbated the depression that the teenagers were suffering.  Jim Kuczo said that beyond what he was hearing in the news, he was also receiving phone calls from parents nearby, telling

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Connecticut House Approves $30 Million Childhood Lead Exposure Bill,146-0

The Connecticut House voted 146-0 on Tuesday to pass a bill that will increase testing for lead exposure in children, lower the threshold requiring municipalities to investigate and remediate for lead, and provide $30 million to cover the estimated cost of compliance.  The bill requires health centers to report lead poisoning when a child’s blood levels are greater than 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, in conformance with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. It also requires the state to begin an epidemiological investigation and conduct remediation when a child’s blood level is greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter. “We

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Push for Primary Care Raises Alarm Among Mental Health and Disability Advocates

Two years ago, in response to ever-rising healthcare costs, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order allowing the Office of Health Strategy to create targets — called “benchmarks” — for how much the cost of healthcare should grow each year, and to create metrics that measure the quality of healthcare in the state. The executive order also included a plan to increase the amount of money directed toward primary care doctors.  Now, the legislature is considering turning that executive order into law. But the bill is opposed by various organizations on the grounds that the extra funds for primary care

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Limited Funding as Schools Report Waitlists, Growing Demand for Mental Health Services

Several of Groton’s five school-based health centers have waitlists. So do all five of the school-based health centers in New London. At New London Multi-Magnet High School, there have been waitlists to see behavioral health counselors since October.  “From a behavioral health standpoint, the need is incredible. Incredible,” said Mark Robel, practice manager for school-based health centers at United Community and Family Services, which operates school-based health centers in the Norwich, Waterford, Montville and Griswold Public Schools.  School-based health centers – miniature doctor’s offices that provide students with everything from check-ups to sick visits to mental health assessments and consultations

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Connecticut Lawmakers Aim Legislation at Attracting Young Doctors

Lawmakers are proposing a bill that would offer physicians who either attended medical school or completed their residency in Connecticut a 20 percent reimbursement for federal and state loans each year that they practice in Connecticut. Lawmakers also discussed incentives, limits on malpractice claims and non-compete agreements required for doctors. The legislation aims at least in part to address the state’s difficulty retaining medical students who begin their training in Connecticut. Over half of the approximately 4,000 doctors who completed their residency in Connecticut last year left the state to practice medicine somewhere else. That number places Connecticut 47th out

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Nursing-home Workers in Stamford Say They Must Fight for ‘Crumbs Off the Cake’

STAMFORD – “One, two, three, four – no one should be working poor!” At the entrance to The Villa at Stamford Thursday, a nursing-home worker banged out a beat on a blue plastic bucket as her co-workers followed, chanting. Some held signs: “Be fair to those who care.” Marieta Postoli made her own sign, directed at the owners of The Villa. “You are thieves,” it read. “I’ve worked here seven years,” said Postoli, 58, of Stamford. “I make $18.06 an hour. There aren’t enough workers here, so we do double shifts. And I do private-duty work. I need the money.

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State Sees Critical Shortage of Nurses, $72m Proposed for Healthcare Education

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Hartford Healthcare CEO Jeff Flacks said on Thursday that the system plans to hire 1,000 more nurses this year, plus at least 1,000 nurses each year for the next five years.  But first, he needs to find the workers.  Kelli Vallieres, Chief State Workforce Officer at the Office of Workforce Strategy, said during a Thursday press conference that Connecticut is facing “a critical shortage” in nurses and other workers in the healthcare field. As of the start of this year, she said, healthcare and social assistance positions had the highest number of job postings than any other type of job

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Among Health Systems Battling Financial Onslaught from COVID, Size Didn’t Matter

STAMFORD – To promote fiscal well-being, hospitals, physician practices and other medical providers have spent a couple of decades consolidating into “health systems.” But years of mergers and acquisitions may not be enough to inoculate them against coronavirus. Connecticut’s largest system, Yale New Haven Health, recently announced it faces a $200 million deficit, citing elevated costs of labor, equipment and supplies brought on by a pandemic that also cut into revenue when elective procedures had to be suspended. Yale New Haven Health has medical networks throughout Connecticut and in two neighboring states, and operates hospitals in New Haven, Bridgeport, Greenwich,

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Children’s Mental Health Bill Looks to Improve Staffing, Insurance Reimbursements

Friday’s testimony on a 100-page bill aimed at addressing children’s mental health focused on two major and intertwined problems — a lack of available mental health workers and low or non-existent reimbursement from insurance companies for mental health services.   During the Committee on Children public hearing, Frank Fortunati, Vice Chief of Psychiatry at Yale New Haven Hospital, said that in the last year the lack of insurance reimbursement pushed five of the hospital’s experienced licensed social workers to leave for jobs at schools. “We need to retain folks who we’ve taken years to train and have become quite good,” said

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A District-by-District Look at Lifting the School Mask Mandate

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On Monday, the majority of Connecticut public, private and parochial schools will make mask wearing optional for students and staff, after the passage of Special Act No 22-1. The end of universal masking in schools comes as data released Thursday showed at least 800 fewer COVID cases among students and staff in Connecticut in the past week and a positivity rate of 3.99 percent, down from a peak of 24 percent. According to guidance released by the state Department of Public Health on February 18: “Given the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, at-home COVID-19 testing, medications to treat COVID-19, falling

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A Divided Decision in Southeast Connecticut — Norwich and New London Split, Towns Drop Mask Mandates for Schools

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New London and Norwich Boards of Education were divided in their decisions on Thursday about whether or not to make masking optional in the districts after Gov. Ned Lamont’s mask mandate expires on February 28.  New London’s board voted to make masking optional starting on Monday, although the district still strongly recommends that students continue to wear masks. Norwich voted to extend the mask mandate through March 18, after which masking will become optional.   Groton, East Lyme, Lyme-Old Lyme and North Stonington have all announced that they will not be requiring masks after the state-level mandate expires.  Norwich In a

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With Child Health Benefits to Start in 2023, a Push to Extend Husky to All Ages of Undocumented Immigrants

For Ericka Salvatierra, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, the challenge of taking her four-year-old and her eight-year-old to the doctor’s office starts when she’s handed the bill.   “Sometimes they ask me for pay stubs to give me a discount, and sometimes they just will not see them for an appointment if I don’t pay the full amount up front,” Salvatierra, a member of Hartford Deportation Defense, said during a webinar hosted by the Husky 4 Immigrants coalition last week.   State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown and State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford also attended the webinar.  Both said that healthcare should

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Local Schools, Teachers’ Unions Weigh Options Before Expected Rollback of State Mask Mandate

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On Monday, the Connecticut State Senate will consider two bills, one to extend the civil preparedness and public health emergencies through June 30 and the other to sign eleven of Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders into law. The most notable COVID-related restriction up for extension is the mask mandate in all k-12 schools and childcare settings. The bill, by recommendation of the Governor, the Commissioner of Public Health and the Commissioner of Education, would extend the mask mandate from Feb. 15 to Feb. 28, at which point the decision on masking would be left to the local board of education

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High Demand For Mental Health Services Threatens to Overwhelm Spanish-speaking Staff

The stress of family, health and employment in the wake of the pandemic has created a high demand for mental health services in Connecticut. But for Spanish-speakers, who represent an ever-growing population in the state, finding mental health professionals who can understand and speak their native language is a particular challenge.  Dr. Michelle Silva, a faculty member at the Yale Department of Psychiatry, clinician at the Hispanic Clinic in New Haven and director of Latino Behavioral Health Services, said that the clinic where she works is seeing more clients coming in from Central America — many who have been through

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Advocates Urge Creative Investments By State Government to Address Mental Health

A coalition of advocates and mental health providers are calling for more investment in mental health and addiction services, and while much of that request would go toward state-run services, a few proposals could provide a novel approach to services at the community level.  Advocates at a press conference on Thursday said that an investment in the state-run services is necessary because they have been drastically underfunded. The requests, spelled out in a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont, include filling at least 800 staffing vacancies at the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and setting aside $33.7 million to

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State Lawmakers Signal Common Ground on Proposals to Tackle Fentanyl Overdoses

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HARTFORD — Senator GOP Leader Kevin Kelly, and Deputy Leader Paul Formica, called a press conference on Thursday to announce a three-part proposal intended to target fentanyl overdoses. The proposal includes increased law enforcement penalties for selling fentanyl, allowing access to Narcan in schools, and spending a portion of an anticipated $300 million settlement with pharmaceutical companies to create a public awareness campaign. Speaking at the Capitol at noon on Thursday, Kelly said the opioid epidemic is a public health and safety crisis in Connecticut and that illicit manufactured fentanyl has caused the crisis to explode even further.  “Fentanyl is a

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Just 21 of 152 Beds Filled — Workers Claim De Facto Closure of State Detox Programs

Hundreds of people with the most desperate cases of alcohol and opioid addiction have been shut out of Connecticut’s state-run in-patient programs for nearly a month, according to union officials representing workers at the facilities. On Dec. 28, the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services stopped admitting patients to the only two state-run medically-managed detox and intensive residential addiction care programs at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown and Blue Hills Hospital in Hartford, according to officials with the Service Employees International Union Local 1199. According to Mary Kate Mason, spokesperson for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction

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Republicans Take Aim at Connecticut’s ‘Disjointed’ Mental Health Services

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HARTFORD – In a press conference on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers announced several proposals to expand access to mental health care for children and new mothers, from mental health liaisons in schools to greater awareness of postpartum mental health to increased support for nonprofits in the face of looming state workforce retirements.    State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, called the lack of mental health services a system-wide problem in the state of Connecticut.   “We have a disjointed, disconnected system of care here,” said Somers. “There’s no continuum of care. People search for days to try to find help. We don’t have enough

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Solnit Youth Psychiatric Center Struggles with Staffing Shortages, Downsizing

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MIDDLETOWN — When Akashdeep Aujla, a psychiatrist at the Albert J. Solnit Children’s Center in Middletown, began working at the center 20 years ago, he said that the center had 100 hospital beds. Now, he said the facility has a maximum inpatient capacity of 44, and it is struggling to bring in workers.  “The last psychiatrist we recruited at Solnit was 17 years ago,” Aujla said during a virtual panel discussion on the availability of mental health services to children in Connecticut.  Solnit, the only state-run long-term psychiatric facility in Connecticut, houses children between 12 and 18 years old with

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Anger, Aggression on the Rise, as Patients Face Long Waits, Limited Hospital Visits

“It is now unusual to not have at least one employee reported to occupational health because they have been assaulted by patients at every morning rounds across our health system,” said Marna Borgstrum, chief executive officer of Yale-New Haven Health System.  Borgstrum told CT Examiner that on top of the expected incidents of aggression from patients hospitalized with dementia, every other area of the health system has been coping with public misbehavior rising to the level of assault during the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the last few weeks Borgstrum said that a fist fight had broken out

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Omicron Roils Politics, Sparks Debate Over Classroom Instruction

One year ago in December, during the height of the second wave of the pandemic, 22 children were hospitalized in the Yale New Haven Health System for COVID-19. A year later, in December 2021, that number more than doubled to 46 children admitted. And this January, the number of hospitalized children will likely increase well beyond those 46.  In the first five days of the month, 22 children admitted for COVID, including some in the intensive care unit, according to Dr. Tom Murray at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.  “There has been a huge surge in pediatric hospitalizations and these

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Lamont Pledges Support for Keeping Connecticut’s Children in the Classroom

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As Connecticut’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tops 24 percent, Gov. Ned Lamont pledged on Tuesday to do everything possible to keep the state’s children in the classroom.  “I’m going to do everything I can do to keep kids in the classroom safely,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Nothing compares to a great teacher in a great classroom.”  Already, Stonington Public Schools have delayed opening after Christmas vacation, Ansonia Public Schools have closed for the full week and many other districts have closed one or two schools to cope with bus driver and teacher shortages stemming from

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A Piecemeal Approach to COVID Tests, as Towns Grapple With Delays, Fewer Kits

Towns across Connecticut are beginning to distribute about 426,000 COVID-19 tests after the state’s original agreement to purchase 3 million COVID-19 testing kits from an outside vendor fell through last week, delaying the distribution. But local officials say they are still running short of demand after a holiday surge of cases and receiving fewer than expected tests from the state. Setting aside a portion of the tests for front-line workers – school and daycare staff and emergency workers – town officials said the number left for residents did not measure up to what was needed.  “It’s very clearly not enough

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Teachers Unions Press for Stricter COVID Protocols With Return to the Classrooms

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A coalition of unions representing teachers, paraeducators and school staff are demanding a new set of protocols around testing, masking and vaccinations which they say will make it possible for in-person learning to continue safely.   Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said in a press conference on Monday that up to 60 percent of the teachers she represents do not have access to masks, and that 70 percent don’t have access to testing.  “What we’ve seen is a real lack of a plan,” said Dias. The Board of Education Union Coalition, which represents 60,000 school educators and staff,

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First-Come, First-Served COVID Test Kits for Madison Residents

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MADISON – The town will be providing free COVID-19 testing kits on a first-come, first-served basis to residents who register online starting Monday morning.  First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons said in a Jan. 2 communication that the town of Madison received a shipment of 2,880 test kits on Saturday.  Beginning on Monday, Jan 3, at 9 a.m, Madison residents can go online and reserve a time slot to pick up their test kits. Pick up is on Tues, Jan 4 and Wed, Jan 5 between 12 and 7 p.m. at the Madison Surf Club. Residents are limited to two kits per

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Yale Chief Medical Officer Gives Downbeat Take COVID Pandemic

“We will continue to see outbreaks like we’ve seen, and we have to continue to live and deal with it. I’d say we’ve got another year or so of what we’ve been living with,” said Dr. Tom Balcezak, Chief Medical Officer at Yale New Haven Health System.  In other words, according to Balcezak, masking, booster shots and restrictions on indoor gatherings are nowhere near over because mortality rate due to COVID is too high a risk.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2020 there were 20.6 million cases of COVID-19 and with a mortality rate of 1.8 percent.

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