By LINDSAY CAREY
Members of the community group advocating for Bradley Memorial Hospital voiced their frustrations with the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to permit application for the building of an Urgent Care facility on Queen Street, which they believe will compete with the Bradley’s Emergency Room.
The Community Committee to Save Bradley met at the Calendar House last week to discuss the news that the proposal for the Hartford Healthcare Medical Group owned facility on Queen Street had passed.
Members of the group, including its leader Bonnie Sica, voiced frustration the PZC would pass the proposal without a public hearing.
The group’s main concern about the urgent care facility is it would undermine the financial viability of Bradley. This in turn, the group felt, would be used by Hartford Healthcare as proof the emergency room was not being used, which would lead to its closure.
“If you go to this urgent care, money leaves the ER at Bradley and that money goes back to Hartford Healthcare, not into Bradley,” said Sica. “We will fight against anything that will compete against our hospital, especially owned by its parent company. Why would you do that?”
Sica said she spoke with the owner of Castle Corporation, the company building the 47,000 sq. foot facility on Queen St. After hearing her concerns, she said the owner put a clause in the paperwork that says the building can never be converted into an emergency room.
Despite this success, Sica secured under the state Freedom of Information Act copies of emails from PZC members. She read these emails at the meeting.
She said she believed the proposal was strategically passed in an “under the radar” fashion with disregard to her past efforts to reach out to the commission with concerns about the urgent care facility.
The first email she shared was from Town Planner Rob Philips Nov. 12 directed to the applicant prior to the first meeting for the application on the urgent care center on Queen Street.
“Just touched base with the chair and I can confirm that they have heard nothing controversial as of late,” said Philips in the email. “I would expect your application to be met with just an administrative review. No public informational hearings and its likely the PZC will not entertain public comment on the application for fear of creating a forum for an issue that does not exist.”
Sica said since the facility will operate as a business, legally there does not have to be a public hearing. The proposal was initially tabled at the PZC meeting because there were concerns regarding traffic on Queen Street.
After the first PZC discussion about the facility, Sica said that she sent the chairman of the PZC, Michael DelSanto, an email listing her concerns with the urgent care center and asked him to share it with his peers. She said she learned from other PZC members that he had not shared this information as she requested.
The next time the proposal for the facility was discussed by the PZC, it was approved. In response, Sica said, she reached out to the PZC, Town Council and five members of the CCSB in an email expressing her disappointment that no one had touched base with her before passing the proposal.
“The PZC has complete transparency and I take offense to this email,” said DelSanto in response to Sica’s email. “I certainly do not need to check in with you before I vote on an application before it goes before the PZC.”
According to Sica, she responded to DelSanto by stating she is a resident and that she expected elected officials in town to advocate on her behalf after hearing her concerns.
PZC member Steve Kalkowski joined in next to respond to Sica.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” said Kalkowski in his email. “You have just significantly damaged any relationship you might have had with the PZC and more importantly our chairman… If you had so much passion about this application, then where the hell were you during the public hearing?”
There was never a public hearing for this application.
“I’m considering putting the contents of your email on Southington Talks, so the 8,000 members in our community can see the real you,” continued Kalkowski in his email.
The email chain continued on with responses from Sica, members of the CCSB, the PZC, and the town planner.
“If I answer to Bonnie Sica, I’ll resign first,” said DelSanto’s final email regarding the issue.
Sica also addressed some apparent confusion with the building on Queen Street being presented as a medical office building rather than an urgent care facility. Sica said is not opposed to more doctors’ offices, but only the urgent care facility.
“Last night, we voted no emergency services, I thought that was meant no urgent/walk in care like the place next to Panera Bread,” said Kalkowski in a subsequent email responding to the town planner. “I thought it was just a medical office building only, did I vote correctly?”
Sica and members of the CCSB said they feel that Kalkowsk’s email is reason enough for the PZC to reopen the discussion with a public hearing since there appears to be some confusion as to what commissioners thought they were voting for.
Sica also said the contract for the facility was set to expire on Dec. 31. She said it was likely if a public hearing had been held and the proposal been tabled again, the contract may have expired before it could have been passed.
After speaking with a representative for Hartford Healthcare, Sica said she was told that the company is still unsure if there will be an urgent care unit placed in the facility. In addition, she was told that Hartford Healthcare will be coming up with a plan between January and April regarding the future of the Bradley campus.
Sica had another announcement at the CCSB meeting.
With the help of State Senator Joe Markley and State Rep. Dave Zoni, Sica said she was able to set up a meeting for town councilors Cheryl Lounsbury and Dawn Miceli to bring the group’s concerns to the state level. Sica said that she compiled her evidence in two pages summarizing the group’s main concerns.
After meeting with the state, Sica said CCSB now officially have an advocate from the State of Connecticut’s Office of Healthcare Advocacy working with them.
“It is very exciting that we have an advocate, she’s aligned also to the governor’s office and also to the attorney general’s office,” said Sica.
Sica said CCSB also will be addressing concerns outside of the issue of the urgent care unit with their state advocate. The staffing at the Bradley Campus of the Hospital of Central Connecticut is another major concern of the group. Sica said there are only two nurses and one tech caring for 14 inpatients.
“That’s a lot of work for three people,” said Sica. “If you have a patient who needs to be fed, how much time does that take? Just giving meds out and then you have to bathe 14 patients a day, that is an awful lot and they’re working 12 hour shifts.”