By Samaia Hernandez
As published in the Record Journal Thursday January 21, 2010
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WALLINGFORD — After calling out the troops last year when Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. cut the Visiting Nurse Association of Wallingford’s allocation by $100,000 — $70,000 of which the Town Council later restored — the organization is looking at a possible battle to keep its contract with the town.
For nearly a century, the association has provided a variety of local health and wellness services, ranging from family counseling to adolescent immunizations. It scaled back slightly this year following the $30,000 cut, but is facing the first-ever competitive bidding process for the services it offers.
With proposals due Feb. 3, any number of agencies can submit bids to provide community care, dental and mental health services for the next two years.
Dickinson said last May that the town would solicit bids after he rejected an offer from Mid State Medical Center’s VNA because the town had already contracted for the services.
Mid State’s offer was about half the cost of the Wallingford VNA, he said. The agency received $510,336 from the town this year, following the cut.
Hartford Health Care dissolved Mid State VNA last summer, citing fierce competition and low reimbursement rates that led to a financial loss of $500,000 for the fiscal year.
Ellen Phillips, Wallingford VNA executive director, is concerned that her agency could suffer a big financial blow if it is not awarded the contract and that residents would lose a level of care and trust that took years to earn.
It recently renovated its 135 N. Plains Industrial Road headquarters to better accommodate town services. The agency also staffs a weekday nurse at the Wallingford Senior Center and offers services in five other municipalities, including Cheshire and Meriden.
“Part of our concern is the continuity of care. What’s always been so wonderful with this agency is that we see them from childhood to adulthood. We know the families; we know their needs,” said Phillips, a 22-year employee. “We may see the children in counseling and in dental clinic, in vision and hearing, well child (clinics), so that it’s a consistent overall continuum of care rather than breaking them into small pieces.”
Under the bid proposal, an award could potentially go to one agency or be split among up to three organizations.
Dickinson said Tuesday that the bid is an attempt to gain competitive pricing in a tight budget year and make sure there are no duplicate services provided by town departments such as Youth and Social Services, which also provides counseling.
“The issue of what money we have and how it’s spent becomes a very significant issue, as we can see playing out in a number of other areas including education,” he said. “We really have to look at how we deliver services and what’s the most cost-effective way of doing it.”
John Marriott, Wallingford VNA board president, said the organization would have been willing to negotiate with the town early in the budget process so residents would not lose the continuity of services; however, it plans to put its best foot forward with a proposal.
“I’m very optimistic we’re going to come up with a proposal that’ll be as low as we can possibly consider, but we can’t undercut just to get the contract. We can’t jeopardize the wherewithal of the overall agency,” he said. “The outpouring that we had at the public hearing on the budget last year should have sent a message to town officials that people in this town are very satisfied with the level of service at the VNA of Wallingford.” In tough economic times, opening a bid for services is just part of the budget process, said Republican Town Councilor John Le Tourneau, who is sympathetic to the local agency. “Sometimes you just have to go with who does it the best,” Le Tourneau said. “Right now, what I see is the VNA does it the best. Is there a duplication of services? That’s an issue we have to look at.”