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Newtown's Public Health Clinic Reopening As Lawmakers Seek Relief For Those With Debts To Hospitals



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As of May 13, Newtown has registered the 18th death of a resident from COVID-19-related illness, and the local number of positive virus cases has hit 150, according to state tracking data.

A total of 34,855 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Connecticut residents as of 8:30 pm on May 12. At that time the state tallied 1,158 patients currently hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and the state has seen 3,125 COVID-19-associated deaths.

The Newtown Bee was notified Wednesday that the town's low and no-cost public health clinic, Kevin's Community Center, will start seeing patients in person again at the clinic on Commerce Road starting on May 27.The clinic will only see individuals with an appointment; for more information, visit kevinscommunitycenter.org or call 203-426-0496.

In other healthcare news, on Tuesday, Connecticut's US Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal led a letter urging US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to take action to prevent hospitals from garnishing workers’ wages as a means to collect medical debt.

As the senators note in their letter, hospitals should not take this drastic step during a time of crisis, and HHS should not provide emergency relief funds to hospitals undertaking this practice on consumers.

“We write to express serious concerns with ongoing instances of wage garnishment by hospitals in aggressive pursuit of medical debt collection during the COVID-19 pandemic. As you prepare to release further tranches of emergency funding to health care providers from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF), we request that you condition payment of these funds on a commitment by hospitals not to garnish wages as a means to collect medical debt during this public health emergency, regardless of whether the medical debt was incurred during the crisis,” the senators began.

They underscored their concerns, noting, “Wage garnishment for the purposes of medical debt collection raises concerns in normal times. To carry out such aggressive behavior during a pandemic and economic downturn is egregious. On top of that, medical debt is more likely to affect patients with underlying health conditions, and disproportionately communities of color — the same communities being hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The senators asked HHS to take action, stating, “Hospitals are crucial partners in the frontline efforts to treat Americans affected by COVID-19. We appreciate that the pandemic has placed significant demand and strain on our health care system. However, garnishing Americans’ wages at this time offers little gain and tremendous harm in the face of a public health emergency and economic turmoil.

"Given that HHS has already prohibited surprise billing in its terms and conditions of receiving funds from the PHSSEF, we believe prohibiting wage garnishment is a reasonable addition that would protect struggling Americans from further financial hardship and stress. Entities benefiting from taxpayer-generated relief funds should not then turn around and garnish the wages of those very same taxpayers,” the letter continued.

Phase 2 Reopening

During his daily press briefing, Lamont said he was anticipating the second phase of reopening would occur beginning June 20, provided the first phase beginning May 20 runs safely and smoothly.

During a review of state economies with Moody's on Wednesday, Lamont said because the state was able to keep a lot of businesses fully or partially open during the virus emergency, a fair amount of financial stability compared to peers, and a robust rainy day fund, Connecticut appeared in the top 10 of the global bond rating agency's metrics.

Chief of Staff Paul Mounds also indicated the tax on plastic shopping bags was due to be phased back in during the coming days, and specific information would be available on that by Thursday.

The governor also responded to criticism over utilizing Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to assist the state as it grapples with multifaceted reopening challenges. Lamont said the organization will be concurrently working with other neighboring states including New York and Rhode Island and retaining the firm will ensure there is regional stability and collaboration as reopening plans commence.

He added that while Connecticut could form more committees and try to manage the necessary work to that end internally, BCG would be able to share and implement best practices here that are already working elsewhere, and would be able to get efforts off the ground quickly.

"I'm hearing from small businesses they want to get going, and I want to get going in a thoughtful way," the governor added.

To that end Lamont announced Wednesday that members of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group’s business committee will hold a round table discussion on Thursday, May 14, at 10 am, regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s business community.

Members of the public who have questions for the panel can e-mail their inquiries to reopen@ct.gov. The discussion will be broadcast live by the Connecticut Network (CT-N) and available to watch on its cable television channel and through a live stream on CT-N.com.

Some of the members of the advisory group’s business committee who will participate in this round table include:

*Moderator: David Lehman, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development;

*Joe Brennan, President and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association;

*Oni Chukwu, Executive Chairman of Aventri;

*Dan Meiser, Chairman of the Connecticut Restaurant Association;

*Fran Pastore, President and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council;

*Meredith Reuben, CEO of EBP Supply Solutions;

*David Roche, President of the Connecticut Building Trades; and

*Garrett Sheehan, President and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this week, members of the advisory group’s education committee held a similar round table discussion regarding the impact of COVID-19 on schools. Video of that discussion can be watched online by CLICKING HERE

Virtual Family Assistance

The American Red Cross in Connecticut announced Wednesday it is launching a Virtual Family Assistance Center to support Connecticut families struggling with loss and grief due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

People can visit redcross.org/VFAC to access a support hub with special virtual programs, information, referrals, and services to support families in need. The hub will also connect people to other community resources provided by 211, CT VOAD, and other partners.

People without internet access can call 833-492-0094 for help.

Mario Bruno, CEO, American Red Cross in Connecticut and Rhode Island, noted that the pandemic "is an incredibly difficult time for everyone, but especially for those who have lost a loved one due to COVID-19.

“Not only have these families experienced the unexpected passing of a loved one but are also facing additional challenges caused by this public health emergency," he said.

Many families have experienced a disrupted bereavement and grief process due to restrictions related to COVID-19. To help, the Red Cross has set up a virtual team of specially trained mental health, spiritual care, and health services volunteers who are:

*Connecting with families over the phone to offer condolences, support, and access to resources that may be available;

*Providing support for virtual memorial services for families, including connecting with local faith-based community partners;

*Hosting online classes to foster resilience and facilitate coping skills; and

*Sharing information and referrals to state and local agencies as well as other community organizations including legal resources for estate, custody, immigration, or other issues.

All Family Assistance Center support will be provided virtually, and is completely confidential and free.

Anyone in crisis or facing issues making ends meet or experiencing stress or anxiety can also call the 211 infoline or consult its companion website 211ct.org.

For the most up-to-date information from the State of Connecticut on COVID-19, including an FAQ, other guidance and resources, and a way to ask questions, Newtown residents are encouraged to visit ct.gov/coronavirus.

The Newtown Bee is continuing to provide and mirror information and messages coming from local and state agencies on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Newtown residents can get more details by visiting Newtown’s own COVID-19 web page, at newtown-ct.gov.

Residents can also review all prior COVID-19 updates and follow the newspaper’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages for breaking local news and advisories.

Please check in regularly, share, and follow the newspaper’s hyperlocal coverage at newtownbee.com through the remainder of this public health emergency.

Signs posted along the front lawn of Newtown Middle School announce to the world that the Queen Street school is home to amazing educators.   —Bee Photo, Hicks
A collection of signs along the front lawn of Newtown Middle School celebrate the school's educators, whose have been teaching students through distance learning since March 16. The reverse of of the double-sided signs offer thanks from the school's PTA family.  —Bee Photo, Hicks
A large display across a few windows of an Oakview Road home indicates participation in the 203 Rainbow Hunt. Reportedly organized by a registered nurse who lives in Orange, the ongoing project can be followed and/or joined through a Facebook group called 203 Rainbow Hunt. Participants are encouraged to share photos of rainbows they create or find, "to spread positivity," according to the group's description. The project was inspired by a similar project being done in upstate New York.   —Bee Photo, Hicks
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