Even as legal challenges continue to play out, a top state official confirmed Thursday that the transfer of prisoners and mental patients into the nursing home at 60 West St. is set to begin March 1.
Attorneys for the Town of Rocky Hill returned to the courtroom of Hartford Superior Court Judge Antonio C. Robaina on Thursday seeking an emergency order to block Department of Public Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen from relicensing the facility.
Robaina declined the request, finding "that there is no action which has been taken by the Commissioner of Public Health which is properly brought for review before this court at the present time."
Attorney Jonathan Starble, who represents the owners and operators of the 95-bed nursing facility, was joined by Assistant Attorney General Henry Salton on behalf of the commissioner's office to oppose the request for a restraining order.
The case, one of two growing out of the dispute pending before Robaina, was set for a hearing on March 11.
"The license will be issued and they will be in by then,'' Town Attorney Morris R. Borea acknowledged.
Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice in the Malloy administration, said the facility is bringing staff on board and will be prepared to admit from 10 to 15 patients next Friday. "The goal is to gradually boot it up to full capacity,'' he said.
Robaina's ruling marked the second legal setback of the day for the town.
The judge had heard arguments Feb. 5 on the town's request, made in December, for a restraining order against the property owner, SecureCare Realty LLC, and the facility operator, iCare Management LLC.
Robaina has yet to issue a ruling, and the delay prompted the town to seek certification before the State Supreme Court for a public interest appeal enforcing the status quo – no transfers into the facility – while the case proceeds.
Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Flemming Norcott Jr. dismissed that appeal Thursday.
In seeking the restraining orders, Borea has argued that the community would suffer irreparable harm if the facility were permitted to start bringing in potentially dangerous prison inmates before a full trial can be held on a permanent injunction.
The nursing home first opened in 1967 and operated as a legal nonconforming use in a residential neighborhood for decades before it was closed by a court receiver. The town maintains that its operation under new ownership constitutes an illegal, unpermitted expansion of its prior use.
At the Feb, 5 hearing, both sides submitted exhibits and extensive legal briefs in support of their arguments.
"We would hope now there will be a decision forthcoming before Friday,'' Borea said. "It's harder to undo something after the fact.
Town Manager Barbara Gilbert said the town is prepared should the facility open.
"We have inspected anything and everything that needs to be inspected. If there are incidents up there, the police will be ready to respond."
The state is looking to reduce its long-term care costs for infirmed and terminally ill mental patients and inmates eligible for medical parole. Officials anticipate that patients moved into a privately owned skilled-care nursing home would be eligible for $5.5 million in annual federal Medicaid reimbursement.