Kissel Bill Would Require Hearing Before Nursing Home Closures (Journal Inquirer)

February 20, 2019

Kissell bill stemming from Enfield’s Blair Manor closure would give public a voice

By Will Healey


HARTFORD — Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, has proposed a bill that would require a public hearing at which audience members would have an opportunity to comment before the closing of a rehabilitation center or a nursing home facility.

The proposed bill is a response to the way in which Blair Manor, an Enfield nursing home in state-controlled receivership starting in May 2017, was closed without residents or their family members having a chance to speak on the record before Superior Court Judge Constance Epstein ordered the closure that November.

The bill also calls for giving standing to the attorney of a town in which a rehabilitation center or nursing home is situated to address a court proceeding related to such a potential closure.

The town of Enfield did file a motion to intervene in the Blair Manor case on behalf of its residents, but Epstein denied the motion, telling Enfield Town Attorney Christopher Bromson that unless his presentation altered the financial realities of Blair Manor presented by the court-appointed receiver, it wouldn’t have a bearing on the decision she had to make.

Within six months of the facility’s closure, 18 former Blair Manor residents died, eight of them in just over a month after they were relocated from the facility. Several family members, nurses, and an expert familiar with the circumstances of the situation have said the stress of relocating — known as transfer trauma — likely played a role in some of the deaths.

Kissel said recently that after following the Blair Manor closure process, and talking with family members of Blair Manor residents who died, he felt people in that situation should have an ability to speak.

“I just fundamentally believe they should have their day in court,” he said.

In a receivership, in which the court appoints a receiver to take control of a struggling facility and make a determination as to whether it is viable enough to continue operating, no public hearing is required.

However in a “certificate of need” process, in which the state has the power to approve or deny a facility’s request to close, a public hearing — at which residents and others can speak and submit written information — must be held within 30 days of the request.

After former state Long Term Care Ombudsman Nancy Shaffer told a family member of a Blair Manor resident she would have an opportunity to speak and submit written documents in court, nurses, family members, and Blair Manor residents packed the courtroom in Hartford Superior Court on Oct. 12, 2017.

Epstein denied the assembled crowd the opportunity to speak, as was her prerogative, and told the crowd that the proceeding was “not a public hearing,” and that she couldn’t call on the people in the audience raising their hands to be heard.

Shaffer, whose role as the ombudsman was to “represent the interests of the residents, and of applicants in relation to issues concerning applications to long-term care facilities, before governmental agencies and seek administrative, legal, and other remedies to protect the health, safety, welfare, and rights of the residents,” did not speak in court on behalf of the residents and their family members.

Shaffer also didn’t inform residents or their family members of their right to apply to be a party to the case under receivership law.

Kissel’s bill, Senate Bill 389, was initially placed in the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Public Health, though it was moved to the Human Services Committee.

Kissel said he’s not sure why it ended up in Human Services, and said he’s likely to raise a separate but similar bill in the Judiciary Committee, where he serves as ranking member and has greater ability to steer consideration of the bill.

“I’m totally dedicated to doing all I can to help this bill get passed,” he said.

Rep. Thomas Arnone, D-Enfield, has signed on as a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 389.

Arnone said that serving on the Enfield Town Council at the time Blair Manor went through the receivership process gave him a “unique perspective on the local pain that’s inflicted.”

“It’s a transparency issue,” he said. “The state should be willing to listen to families.”

Carol Conlon, whose 101-year-old mother died three weeks after she was discharged from Blair Manor, said she was grateful that an effort was being made to ensure that people in the future wouldn’t be “voiceless.”

“A community’s voice is important and should be fully heard before decisions as life-altering as the closure of a nursing home are made,” she said.


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