Connecticut’s Budget Deficit at Almost $550 Million. Gov. Rell Snips at Vital Services.

Connecticut citizens continue to fill the state capitol to voice their outrage and concerns over Governor Rell’s (R) proposed cuts to nursing homes, cities, towns and hospitals to meet the state’s current projected budget deficit of $550 million.  Some project that the hardest hit by the latest round of cuts may be providers of nursing homes, which have been in trouble for quite some time, and the Licensed Practical Nurse program offered at 11 of Connecticut’s technical schools.  Despite a wet and heavy snow storm on Wednesday, over 300 people came out to speak before the appropriations committee.  So many had signed up to testify, two simultaneous hearings were held, each consisting of five hours of testimony:

The nursing homes were out in force to protest a cut of 2 percent that would be imposed on a cash-strapped industry that has had no rate increases since 2007.

During the past two years alone, five nursing homes have closed, another five have filed for bankruptcy, and 10 have been placed under state receivership, said Matthew V. Barrett, who represents an association of 110 for-profit homes.

“You’ve got to look at [the proposed cut] in the context of coming on the heels of everything else,” Barrett said in an interview.” A two percent additional cut translates into job losses in our industry. We’re not an entity that has never been cut before.” [The Hartford Courant]

There was also testimony and discussion that along with the cuts and job losses, less care will be provided.  Some recipients of outpatient care in certain facilities fear that with the proposed cuts, they will no longer be able to obtain medication. Currently, Connecticut state comptroller projects a budget deficit of close to $550 million, which is subject to change depending on unemployment and Wall Street fluctuations.  In addition, recent announcements from major insurance companies in the state, such as Aetna and UnitedHealthcare, to raise premiums (thereby dump customers) will also cause unemployment figures to rise.

Adding to health care/provider woes, Gov. Rell suspended the Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) program that is offered at eleven technical schools.  Those effected by this cut came out in force on Tuesday at a hearing to protest eliminating the program.

The LPN program is offered at technical schools located in Connecticut’s urban centers, Bridgeport, Danbury, Enfield, Hamden, Hartford, Middletown, New Britain, Norwich, Stamford, Waterbury and Willimantic, that serve a population in much need of jobs and job training.  On average, 400 to 450 students enroll in the technical schools’ LPN program each class cycle.  Approximately 350 students graduate every 16 months.  The tuition costs at the technical schools is approximately $4,850, about 20 percent of the full cost of the program.  With the closure of the LPN at the technical schools, students are left with only three private schools that offer LPN courses, Lincoln Technical Institute, Porter and Chester Institute, and Stone Academy.

In justifying the suspension of the technical schools LPN program, Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management stated that ” state labor market reports suggest that the supply of new nurses adequately fills Connecticut’s need, with department forecasts projecting 324 LPN openings annually, including new positions and vacancies created by retirements (Merritt, Hartford Courant, 12/1/09).”

Approximately 350 students successfully complete the LPN course at the technical schools.  Porter and Chester has only 20 seats.  Stone academy and the Lincoln Technical Institute offer more classes.  What is alarming however, is that Stone Academy released a press notice about the shortage in trained nursing staff in Connecticut that contradicts the OPM report:

A recent report to the legislature by the Allied Health Workforce Policy Board warns of a severe nursing shortage in Connecticut that will only get worse given the existing number of nursing schools and spots available for students. The allied health occupation with the highest employment level is RNs, the Board reports, with a 15% increase in jobs projected for 2012. The current shortage of full-time nurses is 6,400, or 20% less than is needed based on current demand; unchecked, the shortage will grow to a 57% shortage, of 22,400 jobs, by 2020.[….]

The report talks about a shortage based on existing programs.   In addition, with the job market on a down turn, such programs provide training in fields that are still hiring.  No doubt, this is one program that the Governor should do all that she can to keep, if not expand on.

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