6:43 PM EST, February 22, 2013
It will be interesting to visit Rocky Hill in a year, to see if townspeople are still vociferously opposed to putting elderly and disabled inmates and mental patients in a skilled nursing facility off West Street.
For a couple of months, local officials have fought to block a state plan to place patients and inmates in a private, 95-bed nursing home that has been closed for a few years. Residents have filed lawsuits, circulated petitions and even demonstrated at the Capitol.
Town officials say the residents of the nursing home, which they call a prison, will pose a risk to public safety and place an added burden on town services. State officials say it won't. This is the crux of the matter, and while it is impossible to predict the future, we think the state has the better argument.
It is important to follow the money. The state now has skilled nursing facilities in prisons, and they are expensive, costing an average of $120,000 per resident, said Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice in the Malloy administration. But if the same people are placed in nursing homes, the federal Medicaid program reimburses half the cost. The state can save $5.5 million, assuming a similar cost basis.
Mr. Lawlor said residents will be elderly, infirm or disabled, like those seen in many skilled nursing homes. "They are not dangerous people," he said.
But, some residents said, what is to stop you from putting some younger, healthier people in there later on? Three things.
First, to get Medicaid reimbursement, any new residents must be Medicaid-eligible, meaning they must be disabled. Also, the contract with the operator stipulates that there will be no dangerous or violent residents. Finally, prisons are no longer overcrowded; there is plenty of room for younger inmates in the crossbar motel.
This is a densely populated state; there are facilities for inmates and people with various disabilities in many communities. Most carry on without incident. It's understandable that residents would be concerned. But keep an open mind.
If, in a year, the place runs just like any other nursing home, will the town want to shut down a place with 200 union jobs that is back on the tax rolls?
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