South Central Health rejects Cheshire membership bid

6 months ago
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On Dec. 4, during its first meeting of a newly-installed Democratic majority, the Cheshire Town Council called for two public hearings to take place before its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

The hearings were intended to reverse the prior’s Council’s votes to leave Chesprocott Regional Health District and join South Central Regional Health District, based in Southington. The call for the hearings passed along party lines, as new Town Council Chair Peter Talbot made good on his vow to revisit the Chesprocott issue immediately.

Those hearings — which may have been a formality given the majority’s apparent stance — now appear unnecessary, as South Central’s Board of Directors voted late last week to rescind its offer to Cheshire.

The Board is composed of officials from Southington, Plainville, and Middlefield, and the vote to withdraw the offer was unanimous.

“The South Central Health District was optimistically excited to provide the Town of Cheshire an option to join our health district. This potential partnership offered a cost savings to the town coupled with an unyielding commitment from our team to offer collaborative, superior public health services to the residents and business owners,” wrote South Central Director Susan Lonczak, in a letter to Town officials and members of the Council.

Although Talbot and others were critical of the previous Council’s action to leave Chesprocott, an official action had to be made by the end of the year, by state law. Joining the new health district would have been effective as of July 1, 2024. Since Cheshire never officially joined, the status quo ante remains in place, as Town Attorney Jeffrey Donofrio informed Councillors during a briefing related to the topic at last week’s meeting.

However, numerous issues remain to be resolved between Cheshire and Chesprocott, a partnership that’s been in place for 47 years. In recent months, concerns about a surplus fund, “loose” budgeting, personnel issues, a higher than state average per capita fee, as well as performance on some key responsibilities have been raised.

Despite the criticisms, Chesprocott Director Maura Esposito received vocal support from current staffers and members of the community. They argued in defense of her leadership, claiming that she improved the District’s financial performance and viability while delivering a variety of needed health services.

Several made a case that the District successfully navigated the pandemic despite shifting directives from state and federal officials and other challenges. Esposito also attempted to address concerns about financial management and other issues, while emphasizing both the history of the partnership and its importance for all three member towns.

At a late October meeting between Cheshire’s Town Council and Chesprocott, including its Board of Directors, Esposito and Town Manager Sean Kimball disussed the possibilty of renovating the former VFW Headquarters at 1220 Middlebury Rd. for Chesprocott’s purposes. The space came available after Artsplace announced its pending relocation to the Ball & Socket Arts campus on West Main Street. Some of Chesprocott’s surplus funds, which Esposito estimates at $1.2 million, might be used to refurbish the space, it was suggested. Conversations about that option, and other ways to salvage the relationship, will continue later this week.

Esposito, for one, is eager to move past this.

“Chesprocott Health District has served this community for over 47 years. During that time the health district has responded to H1N1, Ebola, COVID-19, Monkey Pox and many more disease outbreaks. As the public health agency our mission has always been to protect the well-being of the residents in the three municipalities we serve. Chesprocott Health District is a self-contained municipal health agency,” stated Esposito. “We struggled like other businesses during the pandemic but our priority has always been to provide excellent public health services to the businesses and residents in all three towns. I believe we have never strayed from this mission. I look forward to working with Cheshire Town Hall to improve communication, provide quarterly reports on client satisfaction and inspection updates.”

“The staff at CHD is open to suggestions to improve services and we are currently looking at options on how to gather that information. There is lots of great activity and planning occurring in our department including trainings for our Medical Reserve Corp (MRC) members, behavior health services including training on Narcan, suicide prevention, fall prevention for seniors and continued collaboration with many community partners to release our Community Health Improvement Plan,” she continued.

Esposito went on to say that the discord of the last three months hadn’t dampened her spirit but in fact had “renewed my passion for public health.” As far as the future relationship with Cheshire, Esposito stated that she was “saddened” the Town had sought membership with another health district, but was commited to working with the town, as well as fellow members Prospect and Wolcott, to provide the best services possible.

“It’s time to move on and let Chesprocott Health District resume the excellent public health services that we offer to the Town of Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott,” Esposito added.…Read more by Peter Prohaska

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