NAUGATUCK — Some borough residents and employees had been waiting with bated breath for Blum Shapiro, a West Hartford-based consulting firm, to deliver its recommendations for local government in a study that took months to develop.
The group of anxious people included those involved in social services agencies run or subsidized by the borough, which face the chopping block every year during budget talks.
Blum Shapiro, in a report presented July 29 to officials, is recommending the borough privatize the Visiting Nurses Association and Youth and Family Services. 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.
Youth and Family Services should also be merged with a local private organization that provides therapy and other youth support services, according to the study. School district employees or other volunteers could provide case management support for the Juvenile Review Board, which now falls under the borough’s youth services agency.
Directors of both municipal agencies, however, say their programs might not survive privatization.
“I don’t know how a merger would work, or why they would want to merge with us,” said Theresa Steiber, director of the VNA.
The VNA has about 100 patients, all borough residents who are visited anywhere from once a month to five times a week. The agency employs seven full-time and three part-time nurses, three home health aides, one therapist, four office workers, a clinical supervisor and Steiber.
The entire payroll is part of the borough budget. Steiber and the clinical supervisor are in the borough supervisors’ union, the nurses have their own union and the offices and home health aides are members of the municipal clerical union.
The 94-year-old VNA is one of just seven in the state that remain under municipal control, Steiber said. It receives a $1.2 million allocation from the borough this year, but revenue from patient insurance is projected at $950,000, Steiber said. Last year, the VNA earned the borough a surplus of nearly $5,000 after insurance payments, Steiber said.
If the VNA were taken over by a larger organization, patients might not receive the same level of individualized care, Steiber said. The VNA’s employees live in the area; they know the area, and their patients, well, she said.
“We’re the small town company that Blum Shapiro suggests the big-box company replace us,” Steiber said. “They want a viable town, they want community involvement, they want a healthy community and they want to bring in Walmart to do it.”
If a bigger organization refuses to take the VNA over and borough funding dries up, Steiber said, she does not see a way for the agency to survive.
The borough’s Youth and Family Services department is also one of the three oldest in the state. It provides marriage therapy and family therapy on a sliding pay scale to about 50 clients a week, said Christina Gamble, acting director.
“We don’t turn any away,” Gamble said. “About 30 to 40 percent are not paying anything.”
The borough is giving the organization about $122,000 this year. It also receives nearly $30,000 from the state, but close to $5,000 of that is earmarked for programs in borough schools. From patients, the agency pulls in a few thousand dollars a year, Gamble said.
Gamble, who makes about $54,000, is the agency’s only full-time employee and the case manager assigned to the Juvenile Review Board. She works with three part-time therapists and another part-time employee whose job is split between therapy and office work.
Under a private company, patients would have to pay for therapy with insurance, meaning some might not be able to continue for financial reasons, Gamble said.
“I’m not seeing any other alternatives,” Gamble said.
Borough officials are planning to meet again this month to discuss the recommendations Blum Shapiro put forth. If they agree to privatize the agencies, they will begin discussions with potential partners and possibly issue a request for proposals, Mayor Robert Mezzo said.
“There are a lot of items in that strategic planning document that will need further analysis to make sure there’s cost savings associated with it,” Mezzo said. “I’ve been waiting since 2003 to have this kind of analysis and I think we should capitalize on the momentum of the recommendations and move forward.”