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Westport OKs pact for health aides at emergency shelters

During Superstorm Sandy, more people than anticipated sought refuge in the town's emergency shelters. In fact, about 20 people remained at the Westport Center for Senior Activities' shelter days after the storm had passed, Barbara Butler, the town's director of human services, told the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday.

"Many of them were frail and in need of assistance and it put a strain on the staff," Butler said.

She said that's what led her to request that the board enter into an agreement with two agencies -- Connecticut In-Home Assistance and Comfort Keepers -- to provide the services of certified nurse's aides or home health aides, in case an emergency shelter is activated again, particularly for a lengthy period of time.

She said the two agencies have all the insurance and accreditation needed to provide assistance at the shelter. She noted the agreement she asked selectmen to approve was modeled after one the agencies have with the town of Stratford.

Selectman Avi Kaner asked where the money -- $50 an hour -- would come from to pay for the aides. "Does this have to go into your budget?" he asked Butler.

Butler said the cost would be "covered by the town's emergency funds."

Butler said the aides would not provide personal medical care, but would help elderly or infirm people get dressed, cleaned up, fed and help in getting to the restrooms.

"Did some people bring their own aides last time?" asked First Selectman Jim Marpe. "Yes," said Butler, adding that there was a public health nurse at the shelter "around the clock."

She said her staff was able to find hotel rooms for some of the people so they didn't have to sleep on cots. She said that several people at the shelter had just been released from nursing homes. "We got them to take them back," she said.

Kaner asked why the town would need agreements with two agencies to provide aides. "For coverage," said Butler. She said when a shelter is activated "everyone gets put on notice," adding the agencies would be notified that "we might need a health aide."

Butler said having an agreement with the agencies could prove to be an advantage. "We can never be sure, but this agreement will move us further in the line" for service, if needed, she said.

Motions to enter into the agreements were approved unanimously by the three selectmen.

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