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State Health-care Workers in Middletown Seek End to Staffing Crisis

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In Sept. 2020, opioid deaths in parts of the United States were 25 to 50% higher than in 2019, according to a GAO report about the effects of the pandemic on the need for mental-health and substance-use care.  (Adobe Stock)
In Sept. 2020, opioid deaths in parts of the United States were 25 to 50% higher than in 2019, according to a GAO report about the effects of the pandemic on the need for mental-health and substance-use care. (Adobe Stock)
 By Michayla Savitt - Producer, Contact
May 7, 2021

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. -- A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed there has been greater demand for behavioral health services during the pandemic, but smaller staff sizes at facilities.

Workers at four facilities in Middletown agree, and this week, they picketed and blocked traffic on Wednesday to make their point.

Tonya Long, mental health assistant at Connecticut Valley Hospital and a member of SEIU 1199, the New England Health Care Employees Union, is among the workers pressuring the state to fill 345 vacant positions more quickly than is happening now.

Long said the hospital's Addiction Service Department saw its number of beds dwindle from 110 to 36 because of staffing shortages amid the pandemic. She argued it isn't sustainable.

"The programming needs to change because the clients are changing," Long asserted. "We have people out there dying from their addiction, and we don't have the beds open to help them."

She emphasized Gov. Ned Lamont has cited financial issues as a reason to not fill positions at a faster rate.

The GAO report noted in the U.S., emergency department visits for suicide attempts and overdoses in the last year, mid-March to mid-October, were up 36% and 26%, respectively, compared to 2019.

Long added the spike in demand has also been prevalent at Connecticut Valley, and reduced staffing has put a strain on both workers and patient care.

"We have seen a lot of patients with psychiatric needs, as well as the addictions part of that component, more now than ever before," Long observed.

As of last night, there was only one open bed at state addiction services in Middletown, according to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services website, which tracks availability.

Long pointed out there's a waiting list of six weeks to several months at the treatment facilities. Her union, SEIU 1199, said it will make its demands again on May 13 at the State Capitol.

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