Town officials are weighing a $400,000 allocation of federal funds for a well-established local nonprofit organization that provides healthcare services to seniors.
The Board of Selectmen voted 2-0 last week in favor of recommending the American Rescue Plan Act funds for Waveny LifeCare Network’s “telemedicine” initiative.
The initiative has already been shown to address a rising need in healthcare in town, Waveny’s president and CEO, Russ Barksdale Jr., told the selectmen during their April 5 meeting.
“An investment in telemedicine today will give New Canaan a tremendous advantage in managing any future public health crisis, by providing a daily tracking and disease management program with a proven record to enhance timeliness and quality of care,” Barksdale said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Selectman Nick Williams voted 2-0 in favor of the recommendation. Selectman Kathleen Corbet recused herself as a Waveny board member.
The Board of Finance is scheduled to take up the item during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Town Council also would need to approve the allocation.
Barksdale told the selectmen that although many people are tired of hearing that “we are living in unprecedented times” during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still true.
“The environmental has changed, the healthcare environment has forever changed,” Barksdale said. “During the pandemic probably no more sacrifices were made than the men and women who showed up for work every day, were caregivers, nurses and physicians, and put on protective personal equipment to serve their patients and residents with superior quality and compassionate care. Sadly, many direct caregivers, physicians and nurses alike have left the profession altogether due to stress and burnout, while others have chosen alternative work arrangements.”
Though there are fewer caregivers to meet the needs of New Canaan’s expanding older population, telemedicine can be used to meet the desire for timely access to healthcare services, Barksdale said, and without bringing those people physically into “what could be a highly infectious healthcare setting.”
“It was these forces, coupled with the ease and timeliness of access, that catapulted telehealth into the limelight, and showed payers, including Medicare, that it could be a cost-effective solution to enhanced wellness, improved access and quality health monitoring,” he said.
Barksdale added, “Telemedicine can effectively monitor and diagnose long COVID symptoms, as well as other health chronic co-morbidities such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke risk and other respiratory and circulatory issues.”
While the most vulnerable residents during the first wave of COVID-19 in the first half of 2020 were New Canaan’s seniors, “that quickly changed to include other age cohorts during the second and subsequent waves,” Barksdale said.
Specifically, 1,351 New Canaan residents between aged 40 and 79 “were confirmed to have been stricken with SARS virus and as of March 24, almost one in five New Canaan residents had reported testing positive” he said.
“Most research indicates that with approximately 40% of infected residents being asymptomatic and not testing, this number is certainly under-reported. Why does this matter? COVID-19 is a multi-system disease, and long COVID or post COVID affects 10 to 30% of those afflicted 12 weeks or longer after their initial acute infection period. That equates to roughly 135 to 405 New Canaan residents who will or currently have system issues related to the infection. This number will undoubtedly continue to grow as each new wave emerges.”
During the selectmen’s deliberations, Williams said he cousin’t “think of a better use” of the ARPA funds than healthcare-related projects. He noted that he talked to a friend recently about seven or people from a church who have come down with COVID in the prior week.
Barksdale said, “The next wave is expected at to peak at the end of April and now you are seeing people who have been infected multiple times.”
The town began planning last summer on how to spend $6 million in ARPA funds. The Town Council in December approved $2 million in ARPA spending and additional items, including funding for The Playhouse, have emerged since that time. Barksdale had said in January that the town’s Health & Human Services Commission should be more involved in helping the town set priorities with respect to ARPA funding.
The town in December announced that it’s working with the New Canaan Community Foundation to vet ARPA funding requests from nonprofit organizations, though it’s unclear how much money will be available through that channel. Moynihan said during last week’s meeting that the town “will have the Community Foundation’s work back in May for that aspect of it, for not-for-profits.”
Nonprofit organizations that had made ARPA funding requests of the Town Council during public hearings in the past include VFW Post 653 and the New Canaan Nature Center.
Some nonprofits appear not to have been steered toward the Community Foundation vetting process—for example, the Board of Realtors’ “Live New Canaan” item, which didn’t appear on a spreadsheet for ARPA funding in September or October, then showed up on a public packet for the selectmen’s Nov. 16 meeting with the $60,000 earmark and a note that called it a “fully integrated marketing and promotional digital platform for the town.” The most outspoken advocates for the “Live New Canaan” funding were Town Councilmen Rita Bettino and Cristina A. Ross. (Some Town Council members later said they felt compelled to vote on all of the initial $2.05 million in ARPA funds in a block, which included the “Live New Canaan” item as well as “premium pay” bonuses for teachers and workers.)
Here’s the draft “ARPA funding matrix” included in the public packet for last week’s selectmen meeting. It appears to include funds already allocated as well as items (such as for Waveny and Silver Hill Hospital) that are still before the town funding bodies:
Draft ARPA "Funding Matrix," April 2022
|Premium pay||Town and Board of Ed workers||$725,050|
|NCTV79||Modernization of equipment||$70,000|
|Waveny Park Conservancy||Matching funds for projects||$250,000|
|Parking fund||Replenish lost revenue||$150,000|
|Emergency generator||Backup generator for critical facilities||$250,000|
|Live New Canaan||Marketing||$60,000|
|Outdoor bathrooms at Waveny||Renovate for all-season use||$250,000|
|Greenlink sidewalks||Completion of greenlinks||$300,000|
|Lapham Center||Replacement generator||$125,000|
|The Playhouse||Renovations, ADA work||$1 million|
|Town Players of New Canaan||Renovation||$250,000|
|Waveny LifeCare Network||Telemedicine||$400,000|
|Silver Hill Hospital||Behavioral health assessment||$250,000|
|Total ARPA Allocation||$6 million|