Photo: Julia Perkins / Hearst Connecticut Media
DANBURY — A plan to close mental health facilities in Danbury and Torrington could critically hurt the homeless and those struggling with addiction, advocates said Monday.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal called for shutting down the state-funded Western Connecticut Mental Health Network in Danbury and Torringto. If closed, clients would need to go to the organization’s Waterbury location for services.
The state Senate appropriations committee put money back in the budget for these facilities, said State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, adding that she expects this funding to stay, but that offices still need community support.
“This program is invaluable to Danbury,” Kushner said at a press conference Monday morning. “We want to make sure we do everything we can to keep it open and available and working to help our community.”
The network helps 230 clients in Danbury and 383 clients in Torrington, Kushner’s office said. The office coordinates with nonprofits and provides services for the homeless and individuals with addiction and mental health problems.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, under which the network operates, did not immediately return a request for comment.
The governor’s plan to close the facilities would save $619,000 in 2020 and $1.75 million in 2021, Kushner said.
“This might sound like great savings, but the cost to our community would be drastic,” she said.
The plan would increase case loads for social workers and extend wait times for clients, who would have to travel farther to get the help they need, said Denise Valeri, a social worker. This would affect the quality of care clients receive, she said.
“That is insane that they would want to do all that and put it in one building,” Valeri said. “That makes me so irate.”
Valeri said she knows well the mental health challenges those in the Danbury area face. She does not work for the network, but has volunteered on projects to help the homeless and collaborated with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the past.
The facility could also help students struggling with mental health, said Mary Levine, a former New York school psychologist who lives in New Fairfield.
“That’s where (students) can get the long-term help,” she said. “Otherwise, they are back and forth to the emergency room and hospitals. And in the long run it’s costing the public more money than preventative care and community health services.”
Local school districts have stressed early intervention is key to stopping mental health problems from exacerbating in students. Danbury is also reviewing the district’s programs for students with mental illnesses after the suicide of a 16-year-old student earlier this year.
Due to the opioid crisis, the needs in the community are increasing, too, Kushner said.
“It really doesn’t make any sense at all to close a service down,” she said. “We should be enhancing these services and protecting these services that we have.”
Clients and their social workers form close relationships, with staff members seeking out clients on the street who miss appointments, Kushner said.
“These relationships are so strong,” she said. “They can find people and make sure they are bringing them back into the program and we’re not losing touch with folks. If you’re working out of Waterbury, you’re not going to be able to do that.”