Hartford is one of the cities hit hardest by the opioid epidemic in Connecticut. But in an effort to help balance its budget, the state wants to move a drug and alcohol detox program in Hartford to Middletown. Officials say the move could save the state $2 million over the next two years.
Blue Hills Hospital has operated in the North End of Hartford for decades as a place where drug and alcohol users can begin their addiction recovery.
The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, or DMHAS, wants to move the treatment program’s 21-bed detox unit to Connecticut Valley Hospital, or CVH, in Middletown. But some advocates say that patients in the Blue Hills neighborhood don't have the necessary transportation to make the 20-mile trip. Hartford has by far the most DMHAS clients in the state.
"How are people from the Hartford area, in the hood, gonna get to CVH to get treatment? And when you get them to CVH to get treatment, how do you know they've got a bed?" said Charisse Lewis-Williams, a retired substance abuse counselor who worked at Blue Hills, testifying at the Capitol last week. She said that she went through the treatment program there for addiction 20 years ago.
Mary Kate Mason, a spokesperson for DMHAS, said the department wanted to consider cost-saving measures that wouldn't reduce the amount of treatment they give agency-wide.
"The one thing we want to stress is that this isn't a loss in services, it is a relocation of services," Mason said. "And we understand that there may be some difficulty for individuals -- particularly in the Blue Hills community -- in getting to Middletown for services, so we are looking at building in some type of transportation component so folks who were easily able to get to Blue Hills will still be able to access the services at Connecticut Valley Hospital."
There are an additional 21 beds for longer-term rehab at Blue Hills. DMHAS wants to contract those out to a local non-profit in Hartford, to be determined.
Connecticut House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said that the Harford delegation will fight to keep the facility in the city. Opioid overdose deaths have continued to rise in Connecticut; last year they were up 25 percent from 2015.
WNPR’s Opioid Addiction Crisis Reporting Initiative is supported by Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network’s MATCH Program.