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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    Blumenthal tours flood-damaged UCFS health center in Norwich

    Jennifer Granger, president and CEO of United Community & Family Services, talks with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., about flood damage in a hallway of clinician offices Friday, March 1, 2024. Blumenthal was touring areas of the building damaged during a January flood. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Jennifer Granger, president and CEO of United Community & Family Services, talks with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., about flood damage in the behavioral health waiting room and check-in area of the building Friday, March 1, 2024. Blumenthal was touring areas of the building damaged during a January flood. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., had visited the United Community & Family Services health center at 47 Town St. many times in the past, but on Friday, he said he didn’t recognize the place.

    Blumenthal on Friday toured the lower level of the two-story health center, which was heavily damaged by flooding during the Jan. 10 heavy rain that caused extensive flooding throughout Norwichtown.

    But for UCFS, the near-record flooding of the Yantic River did not flow through the door. Rather, the saturated groundwater seeped into the lower level, overwhelming the facility’s seven sump pumps. Three inches of water ruined carpeting, drywall, damaged furniture and computer equipment and forced the regional healthcare agency to relocate its behavioral health offices and group meeting rooms, IT offices and food pantry.

    Blumenthal, along with aides for U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., visited the health center at different times Friday, viewing the damage and asking how federal funding could help.

    UCFS President and CEO Jennifer Granger said the physical damage totaled $320,000 while lost patient visits totaled another $21,280 and lost staff time $53,301. UCFS also lost about $7,500 in equipment, bringing the total loss to more than $400,000.

    Granger said the agency’s Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood insurance paid only $122,197. And because the water came from ground seepage, the agency’s property insurance refused any flood coverage, Granger said.

    UCFS received a $5,000 micro-grant through a hastily crafted aid program by the Norwich Community Development Corp. and Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region. UCFS also received a $150,000 grant from the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation. The health center is named for the deceased Norwich philanthropic couple.

    The funding so far still leaves UCFS about $42,000 short of the amount needed for the renovations, Granger said, making officials hesitant to begin any work.

    All carpeting has been removed, leaving rough concrete floors coated with carpet glue residue. The bottom two feet of drywall has been removed throughout the lower level in all offices and cubbyholes. Furniture, some with veneer, peeling is stacked throughout the floor, with more tables, desks, file cabinets and chairs stacked in hallways on the main floor.

    Behavioral health and health center staff now shuffle between offices and meeting rooms to see clients. Some sessions are done via telephone, Granger said.

    Blumenthal asked Granger and Pam Kinder, UCFS vice president of business development, to think beyond the $42,000 in gap funding for the renovations and to include their vision for how programs and services could be expanded in the newly renovated space.

    Kinder said one plan is to expand the agency’s food pantry, which serves about 1,600 people per month and is in high demand. Granger said UCFS has started to use a nasal spray treatment for clients who experience depression that is resistant to other medications.

    “We were contemplating how we can expand that into the future,” she said.

    Blumenthal said a federal grant application would be more attractive if the agency presented an expanded vision for the space, along with any plans for the upstairs medical services as well.

    “There’s no reason for you to be bashful,” Blumenthal said of the possible grant application, “because you are doing great work. You meet a critical need, and nobody is profiting from it. This is all for the good of the community.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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