Nicole Leonard | Connecticut Public Radio
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Nicole Leonard

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

While an undergraduate journalism student at Boston University, Nicole was a reporter for The Daily Free Press and a radio host at WTBU. As an intern, her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe and Boston.com. In her downtime, she watches way too many movies and television shows, which complicates her goal to become a better runner.

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Debra and Paul McAlenney were at their home in Simsbury on a recent Tuesday morning watching their 5-year-old grandson, Hudson, while his parents worked.

Hudson spends a couple of days during the week with his grandparents, or as he refers to them, Nana and Bacon.

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Union strikes at more than 200 group home locations across Connecticut have been called off in a late-hour funding deal between workers and state officials.

Representatives at SEIU District 1199 New England said in a statement that union members reached a two-year, $184 million funding agreement with state leaders, effectively ending a scheduled strike by more than 2,100 workers that was to begin 6 a.m. Friday. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Unionized group home workers, and operators, are appealing to state leaders to set aside more funding for the industry as a strike scheduled for Friday looms.

Their demands follow closely behind a funding deal last month between the state and union nursing home workers to reach a $20 minimum wage and better benefits. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Up until last year, 22-year-old Yenimar Cortez spent her whole life growing up without health insurance.

“In high school, I started realizing my mom, when she was struggling to pay to take us to checkups,” she said. “We would go to free clinics when we were younger as well. We had to wake up really early and make sure we got in line, because if they had no spaces, you couldn’t go.”

Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public

It took just a couple of seconds for a nurse to administer the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into Sadie Sindland’s arm.

Getting vaccinated has been a hot topic lately with 14-year-old Sindland and her friends. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

A health care workers union is delaying strike plans at seven nursing homes while it continues to negotiate for more state funding for the long-term care industry and its workforce.

Thousands of members of New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU are still threatening to walk off the job Friday if their demands for better wages and benefits are not met -- union leaders say there’s been some progress with state leaders, but not enough to meet their goals. 

Tim Rasmussen / Connecticut Public

A labor union representing Connecticut health care workers notified six group home agencies Friday evening that more than 2,000 employees are prepared to walk off the job later this month.

Union workers are demanding wage increases, better benefits and solutions to staffing shortages in contract negotiations with agency owners and operators. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Pharrell Bright sat in a plastic folding chair in the middle of a gym auditorium at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford.

The Capital Preparatory Magnet School senior had just received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I saw a lot of the commercials that the hospital has been posting on TV and through the news and it’s saying, 'get vaccinated, it could save some lives,'" he said. "And I felt like I just heard it enough times that I was like, you know what, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to do." 

Tony Spinelli / Connecticut Public

Alexander Amado started working with Community Health Center Inc. nearly a year ago. He took a job at the health center’s Hartford COVID-19 testing sites when they were newly constructed last spring.

It was a slow start, he said, but everything quickly escalated.

“People would come like four to six people in a car, and people would wait like three hours to get tested. It was pretty insane,” Amado said. “It was a little rough, but we got the rhythm going. And there were two lanes, because that was the volume of cars, and that would wrap around the building.”

Stephen Zenner / Getty Images

Connecticut health providers are urging patience and caution with regard to a new pause on Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines after a federal investigation into cases of a possible rare blood clotting condition.

Tim Rasmussen / Connecticut Public

Twice this week, unionized workers have shut down streets around the capitol in protest of Gov. Ned Lamont’s state budget plans.

Most recently, long-term care workers and members of New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU staged a picket Thursday afternoon outside the state Office of Policy and Management in Hartford. 

Tony Spinelli / Connecticut Public

Connecticut became the first state in the country Monday to open a COVID-19 mobile vaccination unit in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

The new state-federal partnership is part of a nationwide effort to broaden access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially in vulnerable communities and for residents who may face barriers to getting a shot. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

A new wave of Connecticut residents became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines Friday morning.

Predictably, not everyone could secure an appointment right away, but state officials said they hope accessibility will improve in the coming weeks with bigger shipments of vaccine doses and more vaccinators.   

Vaccinate Fair Haven
Allison Minto / Connecticut Public

Volunteers slowly filed into the main lobby of Fair Haven Community Health Center on Grand Avenue in New Haven. They checked in at the door and then moved along to different stations for supplies.

In this case, that would be clipboards, bags of new surgical masks, hand sanitizer and T-shirts that say Vaccinate Fair Haven or Vacunate Fair Haven. 

ARASMUS PHOTO / Creative Commons

Health care advocates and immigrants rights groups are urging Connecticut lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program eligibility to undocumented immigrants.

Proposed legislation in the state human services committee would allow anyone who meets state residency and income thresholds to enroll in HUSKY Health plans, regardless of citizenship status. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

The former manager of communications and government relations for the state Department of Public Health filed a wrongful termination lawsuit Tuesday against the department, citing violations to whistleblower protections.

Av Harris, who had held the position since early 2019 and had served the state in other roles for nearly a decade, alleges that his rights were violated when his former employer fired him on New Year’s Eve. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Yolanda Negrón was barely leaving her house throughout the pandemic out of concern for preexisting conditions that might put her at a higher risk of severe complications from the coronavirus.

Despite her best efforts, she tested positive for COVID-19 in November. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package facing a U.S. Senate vote includes funding for states and local communities to tackle behavioral health and addiction after record-level drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2020.

At a virtual roundtable Monday with Connecticut addiction prevention and treatment providers, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he hopes additional money will help boost on-the-ground efforts. 

A pregnant woman
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Scientists and researchers have been talking about COVID-19 vaccines since last spring when the virus first surged through communities. But the timeline for development was really unknown.

“So it was there in my mind, but it wasn’t something I was counting on in terms of protection or timing with pregnancy,” said Samantha Morris. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement this week that Connecticut’s vaccine rollout will be done almost exclusively by age has stirred major controversy, particularly among some essential workers and people with preexisting conditions.

But top state officials said it’s a decision based both on data and a lack of it. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

An overwhelming number of people signed up to testify Tuesday during what was expected to be a contentious public hearing on school vaccination requirements -- so many that lawmakers, by a majority vote, decided to cap the duration of the virtual hearing at 24 hours.

The limit was criticized by several Republican members of the state Public Health Committee, as well as those who testified throughout the day. 

Unionized personal care attendants staged a peaceful protest in Enfield Thursday where more than a dozen were arrested for civil disobedience. Workers accuse a state-contracted organization of failing to pay their wages on time.

Personal care attendants, or PCAs, provide assistance to people who need help with daily tasks like housekeeping, cooking, and personal hygiene. And for that work, members of District 1199 New England, SEIU say they should get paid on time, every time.

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Connecticut has so far administered nearly half a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to eligible residents and workers, but emerging data on the vaccine rollout in individual towns and cities indicate early signs of inequity.

It’s why local health providers, community advocates and leaders are working together to identify residents who are being missed, particularly people in underserved populations within larger cities. In Hartford, collaborators are undertaking more targeted approaches to vaccine education, messaging and accessibility. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

New state data revealing town-by-town COVID-19 vaccination coverage shows that the rollout in some areas of Connecticut is happening at a faster rate than in others.

The preliminary numbers confirm what some public health experts and health equity advocates have suspected all along, which is that vulnerable and underserved communities, including Black and brown neighborhoods already suffering high infection and mortality rates, are at risk of falling through the cracks. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Several public health proposals are making a comeback to the legislative arena this year, including a couple that have sparked significant controversy in past sessions.

The COVID-19 pandemic cut short the 2020 legislative session. Lawmakers managed only a few weeks of committee meetings and a handful of public hearings before the Capitol was shut down in late March.

Access Health CT

Nearly 1 million people in Connecticut chose health insurance plans for 2021 through Access Health CT, the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace, new data show.

That includes a year-over-year uptick in the number of people eligible for low-income insurance programs under HUSKY Health. Experts say some of that was likely driven by the pandemic. 

Stacy Fields, a registered nurse with Yale New Haven Health and health chair at the Greater New Haven NAACP, talks to people in the community about getting a flu vaccine through Yale's School of Medicine's Community Health Care Van, Fri., Dec. 11, 2020.
Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Health providers and hospitals at this time of year would typically see rising numbers of patients coming in with fever, cough, sore throat and body aches -- classic symptoms of the flu.

“In a bad year, hundreds by this time,” said Keith Grant, director of infection prevention at Hartford HealthCare.

But this is far from a normal year. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

A small team of nurses and support staff set up tables and medical supplies inside the Open Hearth homeless shelter for men in Hartford.

Shelter clients and employees, all masked, lined up to register at a check-in table. Geriann Gallagher, an advanced practice registered nurse, brought clients over one at a time to her vaccination station. Austin Anglin, 67, sat down. 

Sodanie Chea / Creative Commons

State lawmakers want to ban all flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products for good this legislative session to cut off their popularity with kids and teens.

Anti-smoking and public health advocates hope the bill will ultimately reduce vaping and tobacco addiction among youth, as well as address some racial health disparities. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

In early March, Vic Gara came down with severe muscle aches, headaches and a rising blood pressure, indicators of COVID-19 that weren’t well understood early on in the pandemic.

“Taking a shower, just the water hurt my body,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. I slowly became hypoxic. I just couldn’t breathe.” 

Eventually, he was admitted to Hartford Hospital, where he was quarantined immediately and separated from his wife, Laura. 

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