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Psychiatric Hospital Eying Locations Other Than Fairfield Hills, Still Interested In Newtown



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The 100-bed psychiatric hospital bid for development at Fairfield Hills has refocused to sites elsewhere in town.

Fairfield Hills Authority Chairman Thomas Connors said recently that he, along with US HealthVest behavioral health facility CEO Richard A. Kresch MD, and other town officials have considered alternative property in Newtown “in the interest of avoiding potential challenges the project might face” by developing a practice on the Fairfield Hills campus. Mr Connors mentioned a property near the Bethel border along Route 6. Dr Kresch has visited the location and seems interested, Mr Connors said.

“We indicated that we would be interested in HealthVest as a member of the new business community,” Mr Connors said.

The doctor had indicated that Fairfield Hills specifically was not critical, and that Newtown was a good geographical location, Mr Connors said. Land Use Director George Benson said the authority should pinpoint its concerns and “be up front” with Dr Kresch.

Member James Bernardi concurred, saying, “I agree we need such a facility in Newtown,” but it would be a “poor match” for a community center, referring to another project with plans in progress for construction at Fairfield Hills. Mr Bernardi also said he “wondered if a mental health facility was the best fit; with the vision we have now it doesn’t have much appeal.”

HealthVest is “an innovative behavioral healthcare firm that has redefined the psychiatric hospital space,” according to the website for the Greenwich-based for-profit that has facilities operating in several states.

Mr Connors said he is “comfortable with the idea that it would be safe,” but expressed concern that there might be “some sense that it might present a security issue.” It is a perception issue, he said.

FHA member Renata Adler raised the issue of safety.

Mr Connors said, “It’s also the first viable offer,” for development at Fairfield Hills.

As members voted on HealthVest, several offered their thoughts: Voting No, Mr Bernardi indicated “I don’t think it’s a cultural fit.”

Andrew Willie, Tom Connors, and Ms Adler also voted No. Ross Carley voted Yes. Michael Holmes said he was “on the fence.” Mr Connors said, “I would rather see them find another place because what I am seeing is a complete misunderstanding of what they do.”

Considering “what they do for the mentally ill they’re to be applauded and admired” and that “they came here in good faith,” Mr Bernardi said.

“They officer services we all recognize are needed, I hope we can find a place for them,” Mr Connors said.

The hospital developers submitted a formal letter of intent to lease property in late March.

Terms of the lease as stated in the letter of intent would be 99 years with a proposed rental rate of $68,200 annually. That initial rate would increase by ten percent every five years.

The letter also states that HealthVest and FHA would “equally share the preconstruction development costs specifically including the environmental study, abatement, demolition and debris removal/disposal, estimated to be approximately $750,000 for each party.”

The for-profit facility would pay real estate taxes, and create as many as 150 jobs covering three shifts, from janitorial to health care staff.

Two months later Dr Kresch met with selectmen. He said staff at the hospital would primarily treat individuals diagnosed with affective or mood disorders, and those conditions might include bipolar disorder, clinical depression, schizophrenia, post-partum depression, even eating disorders.

Dr Kresch told selectmen that patients would be in separate men’s and women’s wings of the facility; occasional patients might be as young as age 5; and that there is a special geriatric program specifically for seniors suffering from acute depression. In addition, former company owners have developed an initiative called Freedom Care, providing a 40-plus-day program for veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

He said the average length of patient stays at other US HealthVest facilities is eight to nine days, that 98 percent of admissions are voluntary, and that the company admits all patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Also in May the selectmen raised security and safety questions regarding the facility. They heard about means of handling both voluntary and emergency admission, the staff’s training in non-confrontational de-escalation techniques. They also asked about the chances of voluntary admission patients departing the facility possibly meeting, confronting, or interacting with campus visitors. They had also asked about discharge procedures.

US HealthVest is looking elsewhere in town to build a 100-bed psychiatric hospital.
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