Future of VNA to be determined

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The Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association. -FILE PHOTO
The Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association. -FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — The borough and the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association have begun to explore available options for the future of the home health care agency.

“We have met with potential partners over the past few weeks and continue to gather information about various agencies in the area,” wrote Mayor Robert Mezzo in a post on his blog regarding the VNA.

Last year, the borough hired the West Hartford-based Blum, Shapiro & Co. to create a long-term strategic plan for Naugatuck. As part of the plan, consultants recommended the borough privatize the Visiting Nurses Association. The report says the VNA should be merged with a private organization — possibly the Visiting Nurse Association of South Central Connecticut — and the borough’s nurses should be transferred to the private provider.

The report also made similar recommendations for Youth and Family Services and the borough’s trash and recycling collection.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses backed the study in a non-binding vote earlier this year, but no formal decisions have been made regarding implementing any of the study’s suggestions. 

Mezzo wrote the perception that the borough is simply trying to privatize the VNA requires context. No local government is required to offer home health care services to its citizens, he wrote. If no partnership can be established with another VNA, he wrote, there are basically two possible results during the next budget process: the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance continues to fund all or portions of the VNA and business occurs as usual or it chooses not to fund the VNA.

“The latter is a very possible outcome given recent deliberations between members of the Joint Boards, Mezzo wrote. “Under such a scenario, the borough simply stops providing home health care services to its residents and employing the staff of the NVNA. As long as the borough does not engage another entity to provide the service, no privatization occurs. The borough simply stops offering the service and closes the agency.  It is by far the path of least resistance, but creates the most disruption to patients and employees.”

The Naugatuck VNA is 94 years old and has been part of the borough’s municipal government for its entire existence. It is one of seven in the state that remain under municipal control

Teresa Stieber, director of the VNA, said the association is a home health care agency designed to take care of patients in their own homes.

“We do a head-to-toe exam and report back to the doctor. We assess the patient’s knowledge of medications,” Stieber said. “If they have a wound we treat those as per order of doctor. We teach the family to do the proper care so they can carry on after we’re done.”

The association saw 348 patients last year, Stieber said. Some of those patients were seen multiple times.

Stieber said the agency does receive reimbursements from insurance companies to cover some of its expenses. However, the reimbursements do not cover the cost of the employees’ benefits and health insurance.  

The agency employs seven full-time and three part-time nurses, three home health aides, one therapist, four office workers, a clinical supervisor. 

Stieber said the association’s budget this year is $1.2 million, but revenue from patient insurance is only projected at $950,000.

Stieber said the VNA could not function right now without the direct support of the borough. She said the organization is working with the borough to determine whether moving away from being part of the municipal government is in the borough’s and association’s favor.

Although they have met with other home health care agencies, Stieber said it’s too early to speculate on what will ultimately come out of those meetings.  

“We’re still doing fact finding,” said Stieber, who declined to elaborate on how many agencies they have met with.  

Neither Mezzo nor Stieber wants to see the association shut down. That is why they have been working together to find a place where the association can both survive and thrive.

Mezzo said the borough and VNA maintain that any potential partnerships must preserve the quality of home health care services available to residents, protect employees of the VNA to the best degree possible and maintain the identity and branding of the high quality home health care services associated with the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association. 

“Achieving all three objectives will require a significant amount of time, diligence and skillful negotiation, but none are achievable if we simply allow the NVNA to be eliminated by a budget cut. While reducing the costs associated with local government is always a priority, doing so in a fiscally and morally responsible manner is critical,” Mezzo wrote.

Mezzo said when a viable proposal is ready for presentation, officials will seek public comment. 

In the meantime, Stieber said, the association will make sure that residents are taken care of and receive the best care possible.

“It’s business as usual. We’re still getting referrals, still seeing patients,” Stieber said. “Our patients will be taken care of no matter what happens.”