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L+M Safe Kids program finds new home with Child & Family Agency

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published September 05. 2013 4:00AM   Updated September 05. 2013 3:56PM

New London - Taking over the Safe Kids New London County program from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital is a "logical extension" of existing programs at Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, but one that will require the nonprofit to obtain some new funding.

An L+M program since 2001, Safe Kids was eliminated Tuesday when the hospital laid off 33 employees, among them 13 who worked at Safe Kids. Safe Kids focused on preventing childhood injuries with car seat inspections, educational programs about avoiding dog bites and poisoning, and sports, water, motor vehicle, bicycle, firearms and fire safety information, among other areas.

"The hospital approached us three weeks ago, and we really didn't hesitate," Thomas Gullotta, chief executive officer of Child & Family, said Wednesday. He noted that injuries and accidents are the main cause of most serious medical problems for children, so running the Safe Kids program fits perfectly into Child & Family's mission of working for the betterment of the region's children.

Gullotta said the program cost L+M $165,000 per year and generated no revenues.

The hospital received no federal or state funds to offset the costs but did receive some other grants over the years, hospital spokesman Michael O'Farrell said.

Gullotta said the programs will be incorporated into Child & Family's offerings through its BP Learned Mission, school-based health clinics and family resource centers in New London, Groton, Waterford and Stonington. He expects the agency, because it has an existing structure to reach families, can run the programs for less than $165,000, but it will need to secure some new grants and other donations, especially to support the car seat inspections.

In addition to safety checks to ensure the seats are properly installed, the L+M program also provided free car seats to qualifying low-income families. Child & Family plans to approach local civic groups to ask for donations to run the car seat inspection programs in their respective towns, Gullotta said.

Many details of the transition from L+M to Child & Family remain to be worked out, he said. He expects the agency will spend the rest of this month setting up the program.

"We're trying to keep a good program alive and viable, after it had suddenly had a heart attack," he said.

For the hospital, the elimination of the Safe Kids program means the loss of a unique offering.

"We believe that L+M was the only hospital in the state providing the car seat service with fixed hours," O'Farrell said.

The inspections took place twice weekly at L+M and twice a month at American Ambulance in Norwich. About 1,200 car seats were checked annually.

Editor's note: This version corrects an earlier version.

The inspections took place twice weekly at L+M and twice a month at American Ambulance in Groton. About 1,200 car seats were checked annually.

The New London County program is part of a network of Safe Kids Connecticut programs statewide run by the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford. The Windham County program is run by Windham Hospital, but none of the programs in other counties are run by hospitals.

Different totals

While plans for the future of the Safe Kids program emerged Wednesday, the hospital and AFT Connecticut, the union that represents three locals at the hospital, disputed some of the numbers related to the 33 layoffs. O'Farrell said that nine union members were laid off, and two other union members had their hours reduced.

Matt O'Connor, spokesman for AFT, put the number of laid-off union staff at 11. This included six members of the health care workers union, two members of the registered nurses union, and three members of the licensed practical nurses-technical workers union. Three of these 11 workers are still employed at L+M with hours reduced, but these are considered layoffs "for contractual rights purposes," he said.

At the Connecticut Hospital Association, news of the L+M layoffs came as no surprise. Waterbury Hospital, St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport and New Milford and Danbury Hospital are among other hospitals that have announced layoffs since spring.

"We expect hospitals to continue taking necessary measures to contain costs," said Michele Sharp, spokeswoman for the hospital association. "Hospitals have faced Medicaid and Medicare reductions due to the implementation of sequestration, as well as constraints brought by the biennium budget - namely, $402 million in taxes on the care hospitals provide to patients over the next two years."

She said hospitals have been eliminating jobs through layoffs, buyouts and by leaving vacant positions unfilled.

"Hospital employees are also feeling the cuts through wage reductions, furlough days, salary roll-backs, the elimination of merit raises, and reductions in paid time off," she said. "This is a very painful time for hospitals."

j.benson@theday.com

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