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CT Groups, Unions Call for Public-Health Reforms

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Friday, January 27, 2023   

Health-care professionals and advocates in Connecticut have said it will take sweeping reforms to bolster the state's flailing public health system.

At the labor union 1199 SEIU's Health-Care Policy Symposium, experts spoke of the system's long-time underfunding and staffing shortages. A union-related group, called Expand Services to Save Lives, wants to see part of the state's multi-billion-dollar surplus used to address the issues - including $30 million to recruit and retain public-health workers.

Rebecca Simonsen, vice president and director of the public division at 1199 SEIU, said the state needs to revitalize this system of critical services.

"State health-care services generally serve the most at-risk, highest need, complex residents," she said. "Often folks without insurance, often folks that have been turned away from the private sector. And we created these services because, as a state, we believe that every resident's life should be valued."

In 2022, the state received a $32 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for public-health workforce development. She added that even if the group gets everything it's seeking from this legislative agenda, it wouldn't be the entire solution.

One area of the staffing crisis to be addressed is retention of nurses, more of whom are leaving the field due to burnout and higher patient limits. The union wants to see a pipeline created for nursing students to prepare them for public-sector jobs.

Brian Williams, an organizer for 1199 SEIU and a certified addiction counselor with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said it's time to commit to action instead of acknowledging the problem.

"We cannot continue to say, 'Hey, you know, we have a nursing crisis, we have a nursing crisis.' We have to create incentives to actually expand the pool of nurses," he said. "And this is one of the proposals that we have that we believe will have an impact."

The group also proposed a $12 million investment to add workers to the department to address what was described at the conference as an ongoing mental-health crisis.


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