By Ed Jacovino
MERIDEN, Conn. — The state's plan to open a nursing home in Rocky Hill that would house sick, elderly prison inmates is drawing fire.
Officials in Rocky Hill last week sued the company that would operate the nursing home, iCare Management in Manchester, as well as its subsidiary, SecureCare Realty. The iCare company operates nursing homes in Manchester, East Windsor, Bloomfield, Hartford, Farmington, and Meriden.
The lawsuit says the company didn't get the local zoning approvals needed to open the nursing home and to hold inmates there.
At the same time, the state prison guard's union is speaking out, saying the facility bends the rules for prison inmates and could pose safety risks.
The plan calls for a 95-bed facility in a former nursing home at 60 West St., near a residential neighborhood. The state wants to keep inmates there because half of the cost of treating inmates in a nursing home would be reimbursed through Medicaid. Patients from state-run mental health institutions also would be housed at the nursing home.
The General Assembly passed a bill in 2011 to start the program. State officials sought bids for companies to run the facility, and this month the state announced that SecureCare had won the bid.
In their lawsuit asking a judge to block the facility, Rocky Hill officials say that Secure-Care must get a special permit to open a nursing home at the site, because the previous use as a nursing home was abandoned when the facility closed in 2011. The land is zoned as residential.
And even if SecureCare does have the right to run a nursing home there, it would need other local approvals to be able to house inmates there, officials said.
"This would be more than a nursing home," Town Attorney Morris Borea said Friday. "It's not the same thing."
Prison guards also oppose the move. Jon Pepe, president of Local 391 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said treating prison inmates in a nursing home isn't fair to victims.
"If he's sentenced to prison, I would like him to stay in prison," Pepe said.
He also questioned the state's authority to release inmates from a prison setting. Now, they're kept in prison infirmaries.
"These guys that they're talking about that would go here are the lifers, the long-term disabled people," Pepe said. "They're not going to be paroled. They're not going to go to a halfway house."
Copyright 2012 Record-Journal
Distributed by Newsbank, Inc. All Rights Reserved