Waveny Lifecare president calls for New Canaan ARPA investment in healthcare resources

NEW CANAAN — In a letter to city officials, Leo Karl called for $1 million to be invested in health care from funds allocated to the city by the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal program whose the city received $6 million.

“I believe this moment in time offers a clear call for New Canaan to become a model of comprehensive community health,” said Karl, who wears many hats around town, including as interim chairman of the board. of Waveny LifeCare.

He was clear in his sentiment that he hopes the city will invest in physical and mental health resources.

Investing in mental health by creating a “community navigator”

Of the $1 million Karl recommends the city invest in health care of the $6 million it receives from American Rescue Plan Act funds, he would like to see investment in mental health, according to a letter he wrote to city officials.

The letter he sent to the three elected officials, the city council and the finance council “spurred healthy conversations,” Karl, president of the Waveny LifeCare network, said Monday.

Director of Social Services Bethany Zaro said “Leo’s letter provided a fruitful introduction to the many ways our city can benefit from ARPA funding.”

New Canaan has received $2.8 million and expects nearly $3 million more this year from the federal program that provides $350 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments.

“Although some of these funds have already been spent or allocated to specific projects, we are fortunate to be able to hold a public debate on how some of the remaining funds should be spent,” Karl said.

Karl would like $300,000 to support a behavioral health navigator for the next three years and $400,000 for investment in telehealth.

The demand for “mental health support due to increased stress, anxiety and addiction has never been higher,” Waveny LifeCare President and CEO Russell Barksdale said this week. .

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on health care, before that in 2018, when Karl was president of the New Canaan Community Foundation, the organization “identified behavioral health as a specific area requiring special attention. within our New Canaan community,” he said. .

Karl recommends the development of a “community navigator,” which would allow residents to find resources when faced with health issues.

Surveying the city’s resources four years ago, the foundation “identified a wide range of resources provided by many outstanding organizations, but it was not necessarily easy for anyone in need to access them quickly”, Karl said in his letter. “Through a series of focus groups and other work, the NCCF Behavioral Health Committee has outlined a series of steps that may help bridge the gap between individuals and families and available services.”

The Navigator would allow “a single point of contact familiar with the behavioral health field and all of the various organizations and services available,” the letter says. “From the young to the elderly and everyone in between, we have all been affected by the effects of this pandemic.” .

Behavioral health has been and continues to be a major focus of the city’s Department of Social Services, Zaro said. “There has definitely been an increase in requests for individual and group support.”

Telehealth, in conjunction with Silver Hill Hospital, could address behavioral health issues, with 24/7 availability, according to Karl’s vision.

The recommendations made by Karl are consistent with the requests for funds that Barksdale has made. He asked the city for ARPA funds for “the development of a telehealth and telemedicine technology platform that can be used by health care providers throughout New Canaan.”

Barksdale said “one platform for all of these providers is the most cost-effective solution to building better access to healthcare for years to come.”

Karl raised concerns about two populations in particular – young students and seniors.

The young students were affected “because their daily learning and their social development were significantly affected. Elderly people, both in their own homes and those residing in collective accommodation, have endured dramatic isolation and the loss of much-needed social connections,” Karl’s letter reads.

APRA Fund for Physical Health, Institute for Health Care Workers

An institute for healthcare workers at the Waveny LifeCare Network and future health testing are two of the things Karl would like to see as part of the $1million US bailout funds he recommends the city spend for health.

State and federal priorities for APRA funds “led Waveny LifeCare Network to consider ways to collaborate and address services that would improve health accessibility in collaboration with other providers,” Barksdale said. .

In the letter Karl wrote to officials, he argues that the city should spend some of the $6 million it receives from ARPA on health initiatives, including $200,000 to train certified practical nurses and nurses. home healthcare workers, with an additional $100,000 for future tests to monitor the disease. tendencies.

Barksdale explained that Governor Ned Lamont wants to “ensure that the state’s recovery efforts are directed toward transformative initiatives that would see Connecticut emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger, healthier, and ready to resume. the advances that have made the state a leader in many areas and a great place to live.

Much of the money Karl is asking for would be for programs he would expect to be administered by the Waveny Lifecare Network, which has served the city for 40 years. Karl explains that Waveny is the right organization to lead these efforts, as “the elderly population in our community continues to be most at risk with this virus and this population was the hardest hit in the early months of the pandemic. “. Waveny is also “New Canaan’s largest private employer, with over six hundred employees,” according to Karl.

nursing institute

Karl said he would also like to see investment in a nursing institute at Waveny LifeCare to make up for a shortage of nursing staff.

It would be “a unique workplace development program that will help train the next generation of highly skilled CNAs (certified nursing assistants) and home health aides for our community,” her letter says.

Barksdale hopes to “fund a training program for future nurses and home care professionals” by “addressing both the expansion of home care and pathways to higher education. Nursing is a very noble profession and one that has been hardest hit by the pandemic,” exacerbating “the pre-pandemic shortage of professional nurses.”

Karl is confident that Waveny is well positioned to achieve this goal, since “the organization’s affiliation and merger with Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County in 2021”.

This change has allowed Waveny to expand its services so that there are more nursing professionals in their network, an “expanded” home care network and a focus on community nursing, “which has helped the city ​​throughout the pandemic with testing and vaccinations,” Karl said.

Future monitoring

Karl recommends “investment in ongoing testing and trend monitoring to ensure our community continues to stay ahead of the curve.” He plans to invest in testing as methodologies evolve so the city can “adapt quickly as new variations continue to emerge.”

Testing will continue to be needed because while “defeating COVID was a laudable goal, most medical professionals realize that COVID has gone from pandemic to endemic,” Barksdale said. “The virus will continue to mutate to varying degrees, existing tests and existing vaccinations will become less effective, and early identification of these mutations” is essential.


Both Karl and Barksdale want to boost the use of telehealth, which offers an online connection between a nurse and people in their homes.

The pandemic has “highlighted the enormous pressure on our healthcare system, especially on doctors, nurses and hospital capacity. One bright spot has been the emergence of telehealth as a legitimate tool in our healthcare system,” Karl said.

The telehealth program would be staffed by Waveny LifeCare staff and open to New Canaan residents from the young to the elderly, with a particular focus on those with special needs, medical conditions or those over the age of 70, according to Carl.

Through the use of telehealth resources, the city could help by “preemptively addressing health issues before they escalate into a hospital visit.” Karl said.

Online health care visits “are becoming increasingly accepted by the general public, as well as health care providers, including doctors and specialists, as technology has become more advanced.”

Barksdale said he supports telehealth because it gives residents “access to wellness and affordable health care that avoids unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital admissions also remains the best cost-effective strategy.” “.

Zaros said she trusts the ARPA Allocations Committee to “seriously seek out all submissions” and added that she is “confident that each member will consider project feasibility and the qualification guidelines of each entity requesting funds”.

Praising local community health officials, Karl said: “I hope we can invest these funds wisely in a way that will have a positive impact on the lives, well-being and health services of our residents of New Canaan”.

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