Staff shortages limit state mental health services
As more people seek out addiction and mental health services following the pandemic, workers at state treatment facilities say units remain closed and services remain limited due to staffing shortages.
Unionized workers at state mental health and addiction treatment facilities drew attention to the growing problem Wednesday, gathering outside the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown to continue to press the Lamont administration for more funding in contract negotiations.
The staffing shortages were bad even before the pandemic, the union members and organizers said, pushing many workers to retire or leave the field rather than putting themselves at risk by being on the front lines.
“Even prior to COVID, it was routine for nurses to work 16 hours a day,” said Damien Nuzzo, a nurse clinical instructor at Connecticut Valley Hospital. “How are we supposed to provide quality services when we’re stressed so thin?”
At the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services alone, there are more than 700 vacancies, said Kim Piper, vice president of the state division of SEIU District 1199, the giant health care workers union. At the same time, about 28 percent of DMHAS workers are eligible for retirement, according to a Boston Consulting Group report commissioned by the state.
The union said the staffing issues affect almost all positions, but particularly psychiatrists and nurses — the “backbone here,” said Dr. Anca Pralea, principal physician at Connecticut Valley Hospital.
“There is a high need right now for treatment of addiction. There are so many people who have suffered severely because of the restrictions of the pandemic... ” Pralea said.
The workers are the latest to fight for better wages and benefits in their new contracts, underscoring risks they took to provide essentials services throughout the pandemic. The Lamont administration has reached deals with some of the unionized workers, including those in nursing homes and group homes, to provide salary increases and avert strikes.