Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson testifies against bill that would regionalize health department
According to Stevenson, the bill would place an inordinate burden on Darien taxpayers to fund the regional health district, while also making services less accessible. State legislators she spoke to in Hartford on Tuesday, as well as their constituents, oppose the bill, Stevenson said.
“We are concerned that it continues to force towns into a regional delivery model that may undermine the delivery of services in our community and cost more to do so,” Stevenson said during her testimony before the state legislature’s Public Health Committee.
“Under a large regional health district model, the health service needs of a community the size of Darien may be not be considered a priority and the needs of our residents may go unserved,” her testimony continued.
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, a member of the Public Health Committee and a representative of Westport, a town of similar size and demographics, also voiced concern over the bill’s plausibility.
“DPH’s intent is to make sure every municipality has adequate health services. But as we’ve seen, state-mandated, one-size-fits-all solutions really don’t work,” Steinberg said. “Suffice it to say that I and many of my colleagues, probably all of my colleagues, felt that this wasn’t a fully-baked plan and that it had to be rethought.”
He said what seemed especially absent in Pino’s creation of the bill was direct engagement between the DPH and individual communities.
Following her testimony, certain questions of Stevenson’s remained unanswered, including whether the state would contribute any financial aid to help establish the regional health districts.
In the original proposal, Stevenson objected to a requirement that each municipality contribute 1.5 percent of their municipal operating budget, which would have cost Darien $2 million annually. Acknowledging discontent from legislators over the number, Stevenson said Pino put in place a model requiring municipalities to pay $1 per capita annually.
“In addition to that, health districts themselves would determine what services they were going to provide, all of which would have to approved by the state department. Then the cost of services would be divided between municipalities proportionately,” Stevenson explained. She added that additional costs would be incurred to establish suitable accommodations at WestCog headquarters to allow for the additional personnel that might be required by a regional health department.
Ultimately, Stevenson requested a cost analysis of the proposed regionalization from the committee and decried any increased taxes paid local taxpayers.
“With the current fiscal condition of the state, this is not the time to impose greater burden on local taxpayers without strong proof of merit,” Stevenson concluded in her testimony.
Steinberg called the bill a “non-starter,” and predicted it would not progress out of the committee.
“I do not believe this bill will reach the floor of the legislature this year,” Steinberg said.