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Connecticut to temporarily cut 10 rehab beds for young adults amid statewide mental health crisis

The closure of a state-run, residential program for young adults with mental health and substance use disorders will temporarily eliminate 10 beds amid a national and statewide surge in mental health emergencies.

Hilltop Residential Program in Hartford, operated by the state’s Capitol Region Mental Health Center, will close its doors in November after its lease was not renewed, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said this week. The state is planning to restore the lost beds early next year by funding 10 new residential placements with other service providers in Hartford.

The new beds will serve individuals with more complex needs, said Art Mongillo, a DMHAS spokesperson. It’s not clear how the services will differ from those at Hilltop, where adults ages 18 to 25 are supervised around the clock as they receive clinical care and counseling for psychiatric and substance use disorders.

The five people currently living at Hilltop — the program is operating at half-capacity — will move into similar, open beds in other Hartford facilities, Mongillo said.

There are 22 other beds in Hartford that belong to the same DMHAS program as Hilltop, called Young Adult Services (YAS), though none of them are vacant, according to a state website that tracks availability of mental health beds.

DMHAS also operates or funds a host of residential programs outside of YAS, which primarily helps young adults transition from the Department of Children and Families to the adult mental health system.

It was not clear Tuesday whether the Hilltop clients will be move to another YAS program in Hartford — such as the Center for Human Development and My People Community Services — or a residential program in the general DMHAS system.

Hilltop is projected to close around Nov. 19, according to a recent letter the Office of Policy and Management sent to the labor union that represents Hilltop employees.

The letter said all employees would receive new work assignments, but it did not mention the plan to replace the beds eliminated at Hilltop.

As a result, the New England Health Care Employees Union, an SEIU affiliate, swiftly denounced the closure, which reduces available services — for several months, at the least — as the state grapples with a coronavirus pandemic-induced rise in behavioral health emergencies.

Overdose deaths have increased dramatically in the past 16 months. So have inpatient and emergency department visits for people in emotional crisis, particularly adolescents who need urgent care for self-harm, thoughts of suicide and other behavioral health issues.

In a response to DMHAS, Union President Rob Baril argued that shuttering Hilltop would disproportionately harm Black, Hispanic and Latino individuals “at the same time youth suicide and overdoses are skyrocketing and communities like Hartford that have been disinvested of critical services need mental health services now more than ever.”

In a news conference Tuesday, Mayor Luke Bronin echoed the labor union’s calls for an increase in mental health services, particularly programs that provide integrated, or coordinated, care.

Hilltop is one such program, where psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists and other specialists work together to address the full spectrum of residents’ needs.

During the union’s news conference, Bronin noted that the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased demand for this kind of help.

“You see it at all age levels but this population, 18 to 25, has been profoundly impacted by the pandemic,” Bronin said. “You’ve seen increased battles with addiction, you’ve sees all the effects of isolation and disruption as a result of this pandemic, and as Rob said, we are seeing seriously exacerbated mental health challenges.”

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