Borough health budget up; VNA, HRD to fold?

NAUGATUCK — The borough’s overall health and welfare budget will receive an approximately $32,000 bump in funding over the current year in the 2010-11 budget recently adopted by the joint boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance.

A subcommittee of the joint boards, comprising Burgess Mindy Fragoso and finance board members Don Carten and Diane Scinto, examined the current structure of individual health and welfare departments—Social Services, Youth and Family Services, and the Visiting Nurse’s Association—in order to make recommendations about streamlining their operations and reducing overall costs without cutting services to those who need them.

The joint boards took no action on the subcommittee’s recommendations when they adopted the overall budget last Thursday and voted to approve the overall, $7.8 million health and welfare budget. But they acknowledged the borough board might look into restructuring, or even eliminating, some of the individual departments in question in coming months.

“We’re trying to look at ways to consolidate a little bit,” Scinto said.

The Naugatuck VNA moved into its Rubber Avenue building in July 2008 and celebrated its 90th anniversary last September, but the organization’s future is up for debate among members of a health and welfare committee.

The Naugatuck VNA moved into its Rubber Avenue building in July 2008 and celebrated its 90th anniversary last September, but the organization’s future is up for debate among members of a health and welfare committee.

Human Resources Development is a private social services agency to which the borough allocates a yearly, $30,000 sum to provide social (busing, referral and mental health) services to in-need residents. HRD requested—and was narrowly denied in a 9-8 January vote of the joint boards—$20,000 in additional borough funding after losing a state grant that comprised about 55 percent of its yearly operating budget.

The subcommittee has recommended that HRD be absorbed into Youth and Family Services—“a viable suggestion,” according to finance board Chairman Ray Lennon, Jr.—and that the $30,000 allotted to HRD be transferred into that department.

The subcommittee also recommends the Senior Center absorb the HRD bus but that the two remain separate entities, serving the two different clienteles they do now. Its report notes, “having one source of dispatch could possibly enhance bus services to the citizens of Naugatuck that currently use these buses,” but that the borough would, in turn, need to buy the HRD bus or look into buying another one.

The only recommendation the subcommittee put forth regarding Youth and Family Services is that the department “reign in some of their service offerings,” such as speaking engagements at the library and Senior Center, and “work more within their mission statement.”

When it came down to the Naugatuck Visiting Nurse’s Association, the committee’s members did not reach a consensus, and a vibrant discussion about the VNA ensued at the joint boards’ budget meeting.

The committee erroneously reported to the joint boards that the VNA serves only senior citizens; in fact, it serves patients over the age of 18 who have been referred by a physician.

Scinto said agencies such as the VNAs of Waterbury and Watertown could pick up where the local VNA leaves off, as she recommended phasing out the agency over time.

According to the committee’s report, the VNA services about 300 borough residents.

Fragoso recommended discontinuing funding for the VNA, this year, “as we know it,” based on the duplication of services and the cost to the borough. The borough is reimbursed through Medicare and Medicaid for VNA services but is projected to spend about $16,000 out-of-pocket in 2010-11 to fund the service. That projection does not factor in the pension and employee insurance benefits paid by the borough, which is significantly more than $16,000—though officials didn’t have an exact number to cite.

Carten, on the other hand, recommended continuing to fund the VNA, in light of the “unsettled state of healthcare in the United States,” adding that it’s not the right time to “impact seniors’ health care services” and “eliminate a popular department that does so much obvious good for our community,” according to an executive summary of the committee’s opinions and findings.

Since the VNA building was purchased with grant money, it is unclear what the penalty might be for closing it.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect an error in the subcommittee’s report. Finance board member Don Carten, who examined the VNA for the report, has publicly apologized for incorrectly reporting on the agency’s services to the joint boards, and Citizen’s News regrets the mistake it made, in turn, in its print edition.