Children and families in urgent need of support are waiting to receive mental health care at top state facilities like the Solnit Children’s Center in Middletown. SEIU District 1199 New England is calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to take immediate action by staffing all critical health care and mental health and addiction services to save lives.
The Albert J. Solnit Children’s Center – South Campus cares for children who need a restrictive setting while facing severe mental illness and related conditions. Solnit is currently registering over 80 staff vacancies, mostly nurses and a handful of social workers, rehab staff and psychiatrists. Sadly, of the total 75 bed capacity at Solnit, the union’s frontline staff members report that 39 beds remain unfilled while children and adolescents are placed on waitlists.
“These beds were closed months ago due to staffing shortages and persistently mandated overtime shifts. Now the state is having a hard time retaining the few folks who were recently recruited because they’re not bringing people in the door fast enough,” said SEIU District 1199NE President Rob Baril. “Solnit and other state facilities provide unique health care and mental health services for the most acute cases. Many of the individuals receiving care at Solnit are underserved poor Black and Latino children. We must hire the nurses and other indispensable health care providers that will ensure the state can reopen every unit and every bed available at Solnit for the children and families who need it.”
Solnit Lead Children’s Services Worker Darnell Ford, a social worker with more than 20 years of experience providing care at DCF, asked Gov. Lamont to fill these positions appropriately during a Q&A session with union members, as highlighted in this video:
“We need a leader who can place us on a path to solve this crisis. Too many children with mental health needs are showing up in hospitals. They’re sitting around in emergency rooms. Too many are denied care because they just can’t afford it. That’s not the way we should be treating our most vulnerable children and adults in Connecticut. We are counting on Gov. Lamont to make good on his word to staff these critical services,” said Ford. “Across the state, Connecticut must restore and expand services to save lives by filling 1,000 health care positions by the end of the year.”
Solnit South is looking to hire 10 nurses to stabilize the current level of services, and about 30 more to open every bed according to Supervising Nurse Chris Juliano. “The saddest part is that we offer great care for these children and support for their families. But every day that a bed remains closed is a day that a child is being denied of the best care that the state has to offer.”
“The beds at Solnit are the state beds that are available to children who require more than an acute care length of stay. These beds include acute care and psychiatric residential treatment facility beds, both vital to the continuum of care. The Appropriations Committee agreed during the 2020-21 session that these beds were needed and should not be taken offline,” said Patricia Rehmer, former Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and also retired Senior Vice President of Hartford HealthCare and President of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network. “It is very sad at this moment in time, when care for children and adolescents is so critical, that these beds cannot be kept open. Staffing shortages are very real in behavioral health right now, but with innovative approaches, I believe you can recruit and retain the appropriate staff.”
“We must take action to support mental healthcare providers, especially amid exponential demands for children’s mental health services. With the state facing looming staff retirements, we are seeing facilities closing down due to understaffing and have individuals who need immediate care stuck on waiting lists. It is unacceptable and improper care. We must invest in good jobs with competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain skilled healthcare workers in Connecticut. Accessible, comprehensive mental healthcare saves lives, and I will advocate and work every day to make sure the state’s public mental healthcare workers continue to provide the highest quality of care with the resources needed to do it,” said House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Tammy Exum, after visiting Solnit last week with a legislative delegation.
“The last couple of years were really tough for our kids. And in Connecticut, the Albert J. Solnit Center is the facility of last resort for many children in real crisis. That’s why I’m so concerned about the staffing situation at Solnit and DCF,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Matt Lesser.
SEIU District 1199, the New England Health Care Employees Union, represents over 25,000 caregivers in Connecticut and some 4,000 in Rhode Island. Historically known as “1199” going back to the Civil Rights Movement, we are a bold, democratic Union with a long activist tradition fighting for racial and economic justice to improve the lives of Black, Latina, APII and white working-class communities.
Media Contact: Pedro Zayas, email@example.com, 860-830-2478
District 1199, SEIU, New England Health Care Employees Union