Agreement would cut ties with VNA


Borough officials are seeking to cut ties with the Naugatuck VNA on or before Sept. 30. –RA ARCHIVE
Borough officials are seeking to cut ties with the Naugatuck VNA on or before Sept. 30. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses has approved a memorandum of agreement that sets the stage for the borough to sever ties with the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association later this year.

The agreement is with the Connecticut Health Care Associates, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents the nurses at the VNA. The agreement was approved 6 to 3 during the board’s May 6 meeting. Burgesses Patrick Scully, Laurie Taf Jackson and Catherine Ernsky voted against the agreement.

Jackson said she voted against the agreement because the privatization of the VNA hadn’t gone to a public hearing, which she felt didn’t give the residents an opportunity to speak their minds. She was also concerned that the final cost of privatization was unknown at the time of the vote, since no contract had been finalized.

“Lastly, the VNA has helped residents in town through the years, including my grandparents and my dad. The nurses and the staff are always very thorough and compassionate to the needs of the people, and now they will have to look for other employment in these hard economic times,” Jackson said in an email.

According to the agreement, which had not been signed by the union as of this post, the borough will cease operating the VNA on or before Sept. 30, 2014.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said officials are still in negotiations with the bargaining unit and could not go into detail about what is next for the borough as far as replacing the coverage provided by the VNA.

“We’re still working on plans to responsibly transition home health care services in the borough,” Mezzo said. “We are, however, preparing, as reflected in the agreement approved on [May 6], to provide responsible conclusions of employment for several of our VNA employees who have served the borough professionally and diligently over many years.”

The agreement offers severance packages for the employees of the association, which currently has 19 employees.

According to the agreement employees who have been with the association up to 10 years will receive a week of severance pay for every two years worked. For any amount of time with the association over 10 years an employee will receive one week of severance pay per year worked.

The severance pay is equal to the employee’s regular, straight time hourly wage rate times the regular number of hours of work during a regular workweek. It does not include any overtime or other stipends.

The agreement also has payment stipulations for any employee who stays on with the borough between May 1 and Sept. 30. Employees who are requested to stay on could receive up to $750 above their regular pay.

VNA Director Teresa Stieber and VNA Supervisor of Clinical Services Debra Adams, who are part of the Borough of Naugatuck Supervisors Chapter 90, C.S.E.A./SEIU Local 2001, were also offered the same severance package under a separate agreement approved by the board 7-2 last week. Ernsky and Scully opposed it.

The agreement also waives the age restriction for Adams to be eligible for early retirement. Stieber meets the qualifications for a regular retirement.

When reached last week, Stieber said she could not comment because she hadn’t read over the agreement.

The move towards defunding the agency was among the recommendations made in the borough’s long-term strategic plan developed by the West Hartford-based consulting firm Blum, Shapiro & Co. The plan suggested the VNA should be privatized and merged with a private organization, and the borough’s nurses should be transferred to the private provider.

The Naugatuck VNA is nearly 100 years old and has been part of the borough’s municipal government for its entire existence. It is one of a handful of VNAs in the state that remain under municipal control.

The move to privatize the agency has proved to be controversial. Some residents have spoken out against the change and expressed concerns about the future of VNA employees and coverage in the borough.

Among the reasons to move in this direction, Mezzo said, is a sentiment among officials to eliminate funding for the VNA.

“The sense that I’m getting is that there are a good number of individuals that are not prepared to fund the Naugatuck VNA into the future,” Mezzo said.

The association’s budget this fiscal year is $1.2 million and revenue from patient insurance is projected at $950,000.

The borough does plan to continue funding the agency up to Sept. 30 to ensure a smooth transition.

“We are asking for funding of existing operation, not only for the employees but for the patients they serve,” Mezzo said.