Filling the void

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New Haven-based agency, borough in negotiations

NAUGATUCK — The borough is currently in talks with the Visiting Nurses Association of South Central Connecticut regarding the agency setting up shop in Naugatuck.

The plan is for the VNASCC to open an office in the borough after the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association closes.

“We are in negotiations currently with another VNA to potentially have a satellite office to transition the home health care service that would be available through the borough through a contractual arrangement,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said during a May 27 public hearing on the borough’s 2014-15 budget.

Earlier this year, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved an agreement that would sever ties with the Naugatuck VNA on or before Sept. 30, 2014. The Naugatuck VNA has been a borough department for nearly 100 years, but borough officials made the decision this year to no longer fund the agency. It is one of a handful of VNAs in the state that remain under municipal control.

The move towards defunding the Naugatuck VNA 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 Naugatuck VNA should be privatized and merged with a private organization.

The move to defund the Naugatuck VNA has been a controversial one. Some residents have spoken out against the change and expressed concerns about the future of VNA employees and coverage in the borough.

Those concerns were once again aired during the public hearing, leading Mezzo to provide an update on the situation.

Mezzo said the borough is still in negotiations with the VNA of South Central Connecticut.

VNASCC President and Chief Executive Officer John Quinn said there has been no set agreement between the town and the association yet, and both sides are currently waiting on the lawyers to work out the details.

“We are certainly willing to help out and provide services once the Naugatuck VNA closes. We already provide services in Naugatuck, we are just expanding our focus on the town,” Quinn said.

It is likely that the VNASCC would operate its satellite office out of the Naugatuck VNA’s current location at 600 Rubber Ave. Quinn said his agency would be able to occupy the building as soon as the Naugatuck VNA moves out.

Quinn said the talks between the agency and the borough began after the long-term strategic plan recommended the borough look into privatizing the Naugatuck VNA.

The plan specifically named the VNA of South Central Connecticut as a possible association that could continue to provide health care services to the borough, Quinn said.

“That’s how the talks started. We then said, ‘Yes we’d be interested in providing more time and effort in Naugatuck,’” Quinn said.

Mezzo said the borough did approach other agencies, but did not have any success in garnering any interest.

“We did meet multiple times with the agencies in Watertown and Waterbury, but unfortunately weren’t able to reach any sort of agreement with them to assume [the Naugatuck VNA], purchase that agency, or transfer any assets to or from that agency,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said the VNAs from Waterbury and Watertown were not interested in moving into Naugatuck because they already have a presence in the borough and could compete with any agency that moves in.

Quinn echoed Mezzo’s statement, saying the agency relies on patient choice. However, he said, his agency would work to be the best choice.

“The main concern we have is making sure the existing clients feel comfortable with the service of the VNA,” Quinn said. “Folks here want a certain level of service and that level will be maintained by us.”

Quinn feels the VNA of South Central Connecticut is a good fit with the borough. He said the 110-year-old agency shares a similar mission with the Naugatuck VNA when it comes to the patient care.

Quinn explained that his agency and the Naugatuck VNA both accept Medicare and Medicaid, whereas some other health organizations only accept Medicaid.

“It is very easy to continue both traditions in Naugatuck,” Quinn said.

The VNA of South Central Connecticut is based out of New Haven and currently operates in 43 municipalities, Quinn said. The agency’s service area stretches from Bridgeport, through the Naugatuck Valley, to Waterbury and reaches out to Milford, he said.

According to Mezzo, the Naugatuck VNA will stop seeing patients at the end of July. From then until the end of September, the Naugatuck VNA will be completing the necessary paperwork to close.

Mezzo said the gap of time between when the association stops seeing patients and closes its doors is one of the reasons the borough has had a difficult time attracting another agency.

“To be frank, that’s a problem we have encountered throughout this process. Is it financially viable for another entity to come in and have a seamless transfer of patients and assume employees? We have found that is not the case. There would be, in concept, a planned endorsement of a particular agency that would carry on, during the transition, the legacy of the Naugatuck VNA,” Mezzo said.

Naugatuck VNA Director Teresa Stieber was unable to confirm the last day the association would be seeing patients due to the ongoing negotiations. However, she said, it’s going to take a lot of work to wrap everything up by September.

“There’s a lot to do. The Department of Health has certain regulations I need to follow to give up our license. That is what we’re doing now,” Stieber said.

When the Naugatuck VNA does close approximately 20 employees will lose their jobs. The agreement to sever ties with the Naugatuck VNA includes severance packages for the employees.

The VNA of South Central Connecticut currently has no plans to hire the employees who are losing their jobs, Quinn said. However, he added, retaining some of the employees would not be out of the question, if the agency needs them.

“We are more than open to conserving folks if we feel we need staff,” Quinn said. “Really we have to get our feet wet and understand how many patients we will be serving, then we’ll know how many staff are necessary.”

If an agreement can be reached, Quinn said, the VNA of South Central Connecticut is prepared to step up its presence in Naugatuck.

“We’re there, we’re ready, and we look forward to working with the people of Naugatuck,” Quinn said.