Newtown Bee's For Better Health - Fall 2023

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For Better Health THE NEWTOWN BEE, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2023


Enhancing Health With Yoga And Fitness Can Be Everybody’s Cup Of Tea By Andy Hutchison Whether it is for the discipline, strength building — of one’s mind and muscles — stress relief, or for immunity boosting, yoga and other fitness regimens can improve health regardless of age and physical condition. For those looking to get started long before it’s time to start considering New Year’s Resolutions, there are some great options for getting fit, staying in shape, and trying out various yoga techniques right here in town. Yoga For Everyone Newtown Wellness Collective Owner Jen Rizza notes that yoga is accessible to everyone. “I lead gentle practices which can be f loorbased and don’t require extensive f lexibility or balance. In a restorative practice, I utilize props to aid in finding a comfortable and supportive version of a yoga pose, promoting rest and relaxation,” Rizza said. “For those who are more athletic, I guide you to a Vinyasa-style f low that will blend core and muscle strengthening while moving at a more moderate pace to encourage strength and f lexibility of the mind.” Unlike many other athletic activities, yoga is also beneficial to those with various needs. “There are tremendous teachers trained in yoga for children, yoga for trauma recovery, yoga for autism, chair yoga for less-

Herbs Love And Yoga Owner Alyssa Mancini combines herbs with yoga for boosting immunity and soothing health issues.

mobile populations, prenatal yoga, yoga for veterans. No matter your ability or age, there is a version of yoga for you. Any time spent on the mat builds a lifetime of strength off the mat,” Rizza said. “There are many different yoga disciplines, and most people see and experience the athletic side of moving through poses of ranging difficulty. This discipline, traditionally in the Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, and Kundalini styles, encourages building body strength. However, through these more physical forms of yoga, one also taps into the greater yoga of self-discipline and regulation. Underlying the physical challenge of the body, one comes to recognize and work through the challenge of the mind,” Rizza said. “This, for me, is the greater muscle to build, it’s about increasing resiliency and overcoming the mental chatter of the mind. “When exerting effort, it’s common to question one’s ability and also to question the duration of the movement or pose (asana). By slowing down the breath, focusing on the singular task, and quieting the critic in the mind, the resiliency to persevere grows, and this translates off the mat, into difficult conversations, challenging decisions, and how one relates with adversity. Yoga movement, rhythmic breathing and pointed focus become a moving meditation. The broader intention behind yoga is to be able to better self-regulate and manage the challenges life brings,” Rizza added. There are also the quieter practices of restorative yoga and yoga nidra, Rizza said. “These are essential complements to the more physical practices because they provide purposeful time for the body and mind to slow down and recover. After anything which requires effort, there must also be rest,” she said. Yoga can combine with intense workouts as a way for a person to recover well. “For anyone with a heavy workout routine, restorative yoga helps to balance the body and mind. During rigorous exercise, the fight or f light response is activated; it causes calories to be burned and energy to be expended in an effort of self-preservation. Yet, to take time to intentionally and purposefully recover, through calming practices of stillness in the body and mind, serves to disengage the fight or f light response and activate the parasympathetic nervous system of rest and digest, a time to renew, recover, and process all that has happened,” Rizza said. At Newtown Wellness Collective, the focus is relaxing and replenishing practices, including restorative yoga, Reiki, sound baths, meditation, breath regulation and workshops to support you in finding calm

and rest in a busy and demanding world, Rizza said. “Stress is one of the leading precursors to major illness, which is why purposeful rest and relaxation, such as meditation, Reiki and restorative yoga, have such impactful benefits to one’s overall health. Just like rest after exertion, the recovery through stress is imperative. We need ‘off’ time because we aren’t meant to be ‘on’ all the time,” Rizza added. For information on Newtown Wellness Collective, 75 Glen Rd Suite 203 in Sandy Hook, call 203-437-7999 or visit

Herbs Love And Yoga If yoga alone is not necessarily your cup of tea, how about yoga and tea together? At Herbs Love And Yoga, there is belief in the transformative potential of herbal medicine and yoga. According to its website, “Our mission is to empower individuals like you to enhance your life through natural remedies, holistic practices, and mindful living. Whether you seek stress relief, spiritual elevation, or a supportive community, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Through herbal workshops and yoga classes, you’ll have the opportunity to learn, grow, and connect with like-minded individ-

Joanne Lockwood, of Joanne’s Fitness Studio, helps Lois Choi weight train during one of her classes.

uals in the community.” Herbs Love And Yoga makes small-batch custom-blend herbal teas, tinctures, elixirs, and body products. In addition to retail space, there are weekly herbal medicine workshops, yoga classes, herbal consultations, and Reiki sessions. “Imagine herbal medicine as a natural health booster — it harnesses the power of common abundant medicinal plants to help you feel your best. These plant-based remedies can support your health in many ways, like easing stress, improving your mood and sleep quality, boosting immunity, and even soothing specific health conditions such as arthritis and digestive troubles,” Herbs Love And Yoga owner Alyssa Mancini said. “Now think of yoga as your body’s happy dance. It’s a gentle practice that can make you more f lexible, reduce stress, and keep your body and mind in great shape. It doesn’t matter if you are a kid, a grown-up, super active, or just getting started — herbal medicine and yoga can be amazing allies on your journey to feeling fantastic.” For information on Herbs Love And Yoga, 111 Church Hill Rd Mailbox 1 in Sandy Hook, call 917-267-8203 or visit Weights And Strength Building Whether an experienced weight lifter or someone looking to begin exploring weights and fitness, there are options including Joanne’s Fitness Studio where owner Joanne Lockwood offers a weight lifting circuit program appropriate for both a beginner or the experienced client. Lockwood describes workouts at her fitness center as “personal training in a group setting,” and noted that everything done in the studio can be tailored to fit the individual’s needs. “The clientele I work with are anywhere from 50 to 85 plus years old. The classes are all a combination of ages. I feel that the older clients are an inspiration to the younger and the younger clients are an inspiration to the older. With the class setting, there is a sense of camaraderie. Friendships are made and automatically you’ve got a wonderful support group. I’ve also incorporated cardio in all of our circuits — we are here to work all our muscles. The heart is most important,” Lockwood said. “The health benefits from our program include building muscle mass, which can help protect our bones. Not to mention strengthening our bone density — which is helpful to prevent and, sometimes, improve those dealing with osteoporosis. Getting stronger to enjoy your everyday lifestyle. Feeling more energized — it’s always better to move — whether you’re able to run, ride

a bike, or walk,” Lockwood said. “If you are already very active and possibly participating in a sport, this will only help you get stronger, getting more endurance and you will definitely see improvement. We work a lot on balance and coordination as well as strengthening our core. At the studio you are always encouraged to do a little more in a safe and caring environment.” For information on Joanne’s Fitness Studio, 316 South Main Street, call 203-2700292. Kevin Cleary, owner of Athlete Factory, works with all ages from pre-teens to those well into their 80s, athletes and non-athletes alike, and mentions the importance of resistance training for overall health. “More and more research is indicating that resistance training actually can increase lifespan. Why it is so important, is because it can negate and/or decrease many common diseases — osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, etcetera — as well as allowing for a more active lifestyle now as well as when we retire. Our programs are balanced, they emphasize exercising while on your feet and promote wellness through increased cardiopulmonary efficiency as well as reduced body fat,” Cleary said. For information on Athlete Factory, 77 South Main Street #5A, call 203-204-3200 or visit Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at

Wellness Collective Owner Jennifer Rizza said yoga is for everyone and offers various classes.

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One of several ambulances operated by Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps (NVAC), and the corps’ new “fly car,” are pictured in front of their headquarters on the Fairfield Hills campus. —Bee file photo

Decoding Surprise Bills: Understanding Your Rights And Protections

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By oWEn tAnZEr In a virtual lecture delivered on September 19, Adam Prizio, a staff attorney at the Connecticut Office of the Healthcare Advocate, shed light on the challenges that surprise billing can pose and the recourse offered to patients by legislation targeting the practice. According to Prizio, surprise billing refers to when patients are charged the full balance for nonurgent, out-of-network services in an in-network institution without being offered a choice to opt for in-network services. The No Surprises Act, a federal law which took effect last year, is designed to give patients legal tools for challenging such bills. In the world of healthcare and insurance, the cost of a service can vary widely, based on whether the provider of that service has or has not opted into the wider network of providers covered by a patient’s insurance plan. “In general, out-of-network providers can balancebill you,” Prizio explained. “A balance bill is a bill for money other than your cost share. Your cost share is your deductible, your co-pay, your coinsurance. A balance bill is any other cost that goes beyond that. If they’re charging more money than that, that’s a balance bill. And many out-of-network providers are entitled to charge that to you, but if your balance bill is a surprise bill, then they’re not.”

Through an appeal process, patients may attempt to reduce their surprise bills down to only their insurance-determined cost share. In the case of a successful appeal, he told audience members, a patient must be charged as if for an in-network service, such that their bill would be limited to only the expected cost. Before the No Surprises Act came into effect, he notes, Connecticut had already had legislation in place to protect patients from surprise billing. There are a number of critical differences, however, between the federal- and state-level protections offered to Newtown residents. As attorney Prizio commented, “Unlike in Connecticut, under the Federal No Surprises Act, patients can waive those protections.” “That’s something to be aware of. I’m starting to see those waivers — the ‘notice and consent’ forms — even when someone is in a fully insured plan.” This waivability of federal protections can serve as a potential loophole that hospitals or other providers might use to charge patients the full balance. Often unknowingly, patients sign these waivers, having found them tucked within stacks of other critical paperwork. Despite his doubts as to the legitimacy of consent obtained in this way, Prizio acknowledged that this practice is rarely challenged in a legal context. “I have

concerns about whether that’s meaningful consent, but at the end of the day it’s not something that tends to get litigated,” he concluded, stressing the importance of reviewing papers critically before signing. Among charges that sometimes surprise or upset insureds are those related to ambulance response, treatment, and transportation. Today, virtually all ambulance services whether public, private, or volunteer, produce billing for services that may or may not be covered under one’s own health insurance. Malcolm McLachlan, president of the Board of Trustees of the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Association (NVAA), weighed in on the issue. Ambulance billing practices are determined from the state level by the Connecticut Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS), he explained, and apply universally for all EMS services in the state. In practice, however, the full figure set by OEMS is rarely if ever paid by the patient. He said most, if not all, insurance networks in Connecticut will cover an ambulance ride. For emergency transport, patients are typically responsible for a co-pay ranging generally from $50 to $300 depending on the nature of their insurance plan and their distance from the hospital. Patients are not responsible for the full balance.

“It’s an agreement we reach with Medicare and the insurance companies,” he said. “That’s all we can charge and all we accept.” McLachlan stressed the NVAA is obligated to respond to all emergency calls and that patients are charged only when transport is actually provided. He explained that, “We can treat you, and then you can say I don’t want to go to the hospital.” In those situations, there is no compensation to the local ambulance organization for any services they may have rendered up to the point of refusal to transport. The ambulance trustee added that first responders will not be able to provide a given individual patient with information as to how much they will be billed for transport. The financial details of each case are subject to the practices of each individual insurance company. “We have no idea,” he said of the amount billed to any particular patient. “We’re there to take the patient to the hospital. We have to take them. If they don’t have insurance or whatever, we must take them.” For precise information on what one could be asked to pay in an emergency situation, one should speak directly with one’s insurance provider. Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at

Local Dentists Talk Top New Trends In Dentistry For 2023

By JiM tAylor Dentistry, like most other fields of medicine, is subject to a constantly changing landscape involving new and improved best practices, technology, pharmacology, and other elements. At Newtown Smile Dentistry, founder Dr Sean Lee affirmed that, telling The Newtown Bee he is not treating patients the same way today as he was five years ago — and he certainly does not expect to be treating patients the same way five years down the road. The biggest way dentistry has changed, according to Lee, is how practitioners employ digital technology. The good news is, Lee said, digital dentistry makes treating patients “much quicker and less painful.” “When people think of dentistry, they don’t think of computers,” said Lee. “They think of going in the mouth and doing treatments.”

Lee said digital equipment he uses can take full three-dimensional (3D) images of not just a patient’s teeth, but a patient’s jaw and face as well. These images can be used to fully plan dental surgery as well as 3D digital printing for items such as crowns, implants, dentures and veneers. Lee said that an oral surgeon could plot out how to do a full surgery with the digital images before they do the surgery in real life, to help remove a lot of “guesswork” and “eyeballing” a surgeon would have had to do previously. Additionally, the ability to virtually plan out a surgery with the actual 3D image of the patient’s mouth provides a detailed schematic complete with the locations of the bones and the nerves for the teeth. Working Backwards Lee said that a lot of the work is “done backwards,” meaning

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that the ideal results are the finish, and then the work is figuring out what steps need to be done to achieve those results. This creates “much more predictable results.” “There’s predictability in both look and feel,” said Lee. Additionally, it means less chair time for the patient, and fewer visits to get necessary work done. “If a patient needed a crown before, they would often have to come in for two visits, getting a temporary prosthesis and then coming back for a permanent prosthesis,” said Lee. “Now we can get the work done in an hour or two.” Digital dentistry can also help with other work such as facial injuries. “It works very well in emergency situations,” said Lee. Dr Giovanni Cono of Brookview Dental echoed the virtues of digital imaging, saying the ability to locate nerves

is very helpful to oral surgeons during procedures such as root canals and tooth removals, as they are able to do the work without injuring the nerve. Cono also talked about 3D imaging, and noted that it could be used to print 3D items such as splints, or dental mouth guards, as well as crowns, and dental implants. The items can be created with either 3D printing or a milling machine, which refines a cube of material such as zirconia into a perfect replica of the tooth. Cono said zirconia was a material he favored due to its toothlike white coloration, and that it is a strong material to resist breaking while chewing, and is “bio-compatible.” Lee agreed that implants were “the best way to replace any missing tooth.” “This is definitely taking over how we deliver treatment,” said Lee. Treating The Temporomandibular Cono said 3D printed splints could help patients suffering from temporal mandibular dystrophy. The temporomandibu-

lar joint or TMJ acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. Dysfunction can lead to pain and discomfort. Jaw pain, difficulty chewing, and clicking and locking of the jaw joint are some of the symptoms. The advent of 3D printing means that after the mouth is scanned, the computer can make a 3D model of a perfectly aligned splint. Dentures can also be made with this technique. “We used to do splints that were f lat,” said Cono. “Now we have a whole technique related to alignment of teeth to the joint.” Many of these advantages help create a less stressful atmosphere for nervous patients. Another advancement Lee pointed towards for helping patients that struggle with being anxious at the dentist’s office is quieter drills. The electric handpieces are far smaller and quieter than the old, bulky air-powered drills. Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee. com.

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ProPublica Special Report—

Are You Involved With The Philips Respironics CPAP Recall?

By dEBBiE cEnZiPEr, ProPuBlicA, And MicHAEl d. sAllAH, PittsBurgH Post-gAZEttE Millions of people in the United States and around the world were affected by the June 2021 recall of Philips Respironics ventilators and CPAP and BiPAP machines. ProPublica and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on how the company kept complaints about the devices secret for years. As part of that reporting, the news organizations found answers for consumers trying to navigate the crisis. We are not providing medical advice and encourage patients and their family members to seek guidance from trusted health care providers. Why Did Philips Respironics Recall These Breathing Machines? Foam that the company embedded in millions of ventilators and sleep apnea machines to reduce noise was found to break down, in some cases because of heat and humidity. The material is polyesterbased polyurethane, which is used to stuff mattresses, seat cushions and sofas. Tests for the company have found that when the foam degrades, it can release chemicals at dangerous levels. After receiving thousands of complaints, Philips announced a recall of about 20 models of ventilators and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) and BiPAP (bi-level positive airway pressure) machines. The Food and Drug Administration said that as many as 15 million devices with the sound-abatement foam had been sold since 2009. The FDA, which oversees the medical device industry, declared the recall a Class 1 — the most severe type, reserved for device defects that can cause serious injury or death. Was My Ventilator, CPAP or BiPAP Machine Recalled? The recalled machines were sold not only in the United States but around the world, including in Canada, Australia and Brazil. Most of the affected devices were DreamStations, the company’s signature CPAP machine. What Does the Government Say About the Health Risks? The FDA has reported that when the foam breaks down, the material can move through the device and be inhaled or ingested. The agency said users can experience headaches, asthma, inf lammatory conditions, respiratory tract problems and “toxic or cancercausing effects to organs,” among other health complications. The FDA has advised consumers with recalled machines to consult their doctors about

the best course of action, noting that some users may face greater health risks if they stop using their machines altogether. The agency is providing safety updates and has continued to categorize the recall as Class 1. What Does Philips Say About the Health Risks? When the recall was announced, Philips reported that the defect had the potential to cause both short- and long-term health risks, including life-threatening conditions. Previously, two internal health hazard evaluations launched by Philips had concluded that the risk to people who used the machines was “unacceptable.” In recent months, Philips has reported that initial testing was limited and based on a “worst-case scenario,” and that new tests on the DreamStation and similar devices have found the foam breakdown is “unlikely to result in an appreciable harm to health in patients.” Medical experts who reviewed the findings on behalf of ProPublica and the Post-Gazette raised concerns about the company’s safety claims. The experts said that far more devices need to be tested to capture clear-cut patterns and that human studies examining exposure levels over time are critical to assessing long-term harm. The experts also pointed out that the machines tested positive for genotoxicity, the ability of a chemical to cause cells to mutate, a process that can lead to cancer. Philips has said that a third-party assessment still concluded the DreamStations and similar machines are unlikely to cause harm. Testing on ventilators is ongoing. Are Ozone Cleaners to Blame? Philips has said that unapproved ozone cleaners customers use to clean their devices can accelerate foam degradation. The FDA has advised consumers to avoid ozone or ultraviolet light cleaners on CPAP and BiPAP machines. But in a letter to the company last year, the agency said the blame for the crisis ultimately lies with Philips. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the risk associated with the devices was not caused by the failure of a person other than Philips to exercise due care in

the installation, maintenance, repair, or use of the devices at issue,” the FDA wrote. How Can I Register for a Replacement CPAP Machine or Other Device? Customers whose machines were recalled are supposed to be able to get replacements from Philips, which has a patient registration site. Though Philips has said millions of replacement devices have been sent out, customers have reported the process is riddled with delays. To register, Philips requires the name of the recalled device and its serial number. The company also requires a current doctor’s prescription. Philips is offering new machines, refurbished machines or financial payments in lieu of a new device, depending on the situation. The company advises customers who have retained lawyers to consult with them before making a decision. Patients in the United States can register their recalled devices online or by calling the company at 877-907-7508. Once you register, you should receive a confirmation number, which you can use to track the status of your request. How Can I Tell the Government About a Problem With My Breathing Device? The FDA maintains a database known as the Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience that tracks reports about malfunctions, patient injuries and deaths linked to medical devices. Under the law, manufacturers, importers and certain facilities are required to report such events. But patients can report them too, as can their relatives, doctors and other health care professionals, either through the FDA’s online MedWatch portal or by submitting FDA Form 3500B. Is the Information on Social Media Trustworthy? Many patients whose devices were recalled have taken to social media to gather information, including tips about safe ways to continue using the devices and where to find replacements. Videos by YouTube personalities purport to show customers how to tear the foam out themselves, but safety regulators have warned against doing that because it can dislodge potentially toxic material. The recall also helped fuel an online market for secondhand devices. Experts say that customers should seek proof that any recalled machine being sold online has been properly repaired. While online forums can be helpful, public health experts say sleep and respiratory care doctors are in the best position to give you good advice.


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Maplewood at Newtown is redefining senior living with its introduction of The Club. Tailored for residents with advanced care needs, including memory care, The Club offers an intimate, upscale living environment that guarantees comfort, security, and a superior quality of life. The cornerstone of The Club is its beautifully appointed apartments and living spaces, providing residents a private haven that truly feels like home. However, it’s not just the physical surroundings that make this exclusive tier exceptional. Maplewood at Newtown’s dedicated resident care

teams, comprising physicians, nurses, and social workers, deliver an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to care that prioritizes holistic well-being. The Club Level ’s standout feature is its high acuity care management, allowing residents to age gracefully in place without compromising care quality. This continuity of care, from pre-move-in assessments to end-of-life and hospice care, ensures residents can transition through different phases of their senior years while staying within the Maplewood community. The Club Level also offers an

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With a renowned reputation and unrivaled services and amenities, Maplewood Senior Living communities offer residents an exceptional lifestyle. No matter what our residents need, we provide the right level of support and the added peace of mind families are looking for. Our VistasTM program was designed specifically for those looking for some extra support in their daily lives. Expert caregivers are available to lend a hand with personal care, or with more comprehensive support, such as medication oversight. We also offer a variety of health and wellness activities, a full schedule of social and cultural programs, fine dining experiences, scheduled transportation, and more. We take care of everything so our residents are free to explore their interests and pursue their passions.


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Business Name: Aging With Attitude Medical Supplies, also known as AWA Medical Supplies. Address: 272 Main Street, Danbury Owners: Ivette Rivera What is your business background? Established in August 2004, we are a 100 percent female-owned business, managed on a daily basis by family. My sister Juana Rivera manages all day-to-day operations and has established an incredible connection with our customers through the years. We are accredited by the Board of Certification and the American Board for Certification (ABC) Certified Fitter-Orthotics (CFO). We accept most insurance such as Medicare, Husky-Medicaid, B/C B/S, and most Medicare Advantage Plans. What is something important to you that readers should know about your business? We care for the community we serve. We are here to assist families and individuals get through difficult times when injured, sick and aging. We consider ourselves a one-stop resource to our community. If we are unable to assist we do our best to help our customers get in contact with correct companies or agencies that can assist further assist. 90 percent of our staff is bilingual. What is the focus of your business? We assist with durable medical equipment, such as hospital beds, lift chairs, wheelchairs, nebulizers, incontinence supplies, catheters, compression hosiery, diabetic footwear and much more. Hours: 10 am-4 pm Monday-Friday Website: Phone: 203-791-9383 E-mail:

Aging With Attitude Manager Juana Rivera (center) stands with two AWA employees inside the business on Main Street in Danbury with a focus on assisting customers with durable medical equipment. —Bee Photo, Caravakis

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By Erica E. Phillips Almost a century ago, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act established the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay for working Americans. But the act carved out one segment of the population from the wage standard: individuals with disabilities. That section of the law, known as 14(c), is still in place today. Over generations, it’s hardened into a United States workforce system that directs people with disabilities onto a distinct path, keeping them separate from their so-called “typical” peers. Under the law, qualifying employers can pay workers “whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency, or injury” less than the minimum wage for the work they perform. Earlier versions of the law established a wage floor of 75% and later 50% of federal minimum wage. Today, there is no wage floor for individuals with disabilities working for employers who hold what are known as “14(c) certificates.” Many earn less than $3.50 an hour. And it’s common for certificate holders to provide those jobs on teams or in workplaces set apart from non-disabled colleagues — separate and not equal. In the late 1980s, during his time representing Connecticut in the US Senate, Lowell Weicker lent his voice to the movement seeking to end discrimination against individuals with disabilities, frequently calling out the “isolation and segregation” inherent in existing policies. In remarks at the University of Maryland on May 12, 1987, Weicker said, “There was a time in our nation’s history when … we thought disabled individuals couldn’t measure up, that there were innate limits in their ability to enter the workforce and become independent, productive participants in the American way of life. But as a nation, we have progressed in our knowledge and in our attitudes.” He continued: “With appropriate support in areas such as education, training, transportation and housing, disabled indi-

viduals can and want to enter the competitive workforce and take their rightful place in our communities.” Weicker’s advocacy led to the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which championed full inclusion for people with disabilities — promoting equity and accessibility in public spaces, housing, transportation, education, telecommunications, employment and government services. But more than 30 years after the ADA’s passage, in much of the United States including Connecticut, individuals the law intended to protect remain isolated from the general labor force and earn less than minimum wage for their work. “The country and its public institutions are still grappling with the reality that full inclusion is more than mere physical proximity in the community, it is also economic,” the National Council on Disability wrote in a recent report. Julie Christensen, executive director of the Association of People Supporting Employment First, which advocates for inclusive employment for individuals with disabilities, said the FLSA played an important role in getting employers to consider hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities back in the early 20th century. But the context is different now. The industries driving the US economy have shifted away from “widget based” manufacturing, Christensen said, “and we have way more sophisticated opportunities for training and the use of technology.” “There is no reason, in 2023, that a person even with most significant disability cannot participate in the labor market,” she said. People with disabilities make up the largest minority in the United States, and they’re disproportionately underrepresented in the workforce. Less than 45% of Connecticut’s disabled population between the ages of 18 and 64 was employed in 2021 — just a notch better than the national rate of 41%, according to the most recent Annual Disability Statistics Compendium. They are also the largest “pro-

tected class” under national and state anti-discrimination laws. In 2021, there were 427,144 people with disabilities living in Connecticut communities, or about 12% of the state’s population. Nationally, that figure was 42.6 million, 13% of the U.S. population. Disability rights advocates say there’s an inherent contradiction when a minority group that’s protected from discrimination generally still lacks something as basic as wage protections. “There is only one protected class that’s exempt from the federal minimum wage,” Christensen said. “We feel that’s a civil rights issue.”

‘The Right To Work’ Those who back the minimum wage exemption say it provides work opportunities that might not otherwise exist. “Most people with [intellectual or developmental disability] are unemployed or underemployed despite an ability and a desire to work,” said Stephen E. Morris, executive director of The Arc of Farmington Valley, known as Favarh, which supports people with disabilities. “Should the 14(c) certificate get phased out, scores of workers supported by Favarh will lose their jobs and will be denied the opportunities to fulfill a key societal expectation — to have a job.” (The organization’s programs employ 75 people who work for less than minimum wage and 59 people who make minimum wage or more.) Morris added: “We all complain about our jobs from time to time, but we would be outraged if the right to work was taken away from us.” Favarh is one of the 18 employers in Connecticut that held 14(c) certificates as of last month. Like Favarh, all 18 are nonprofit social service providers, most of whom offer vocational assistance to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. “We see it as something that allows some of our most challenged individuals an opportunity for paid work,” said Beth Fisher, executive director of Kuhn Employment Opportunities. Without it, many individuals would have to transition to full-time day services, Fisher and others said. Under the law, employers can set a disabled employee’s wage based on the individual’s productive capacity for a specific job, relative to other individuals performing the same task. The labor department’s certificate application includes “wage calculators,” where employers enter the amount of time it takes a “standard setter” to complete a given task and the amount of time it takes a worker with a disability to complete the same task. The US Department of Labor says employers can’t pay someone subminimum wage “unless

the disability actually impairs the worker's earning or productive capacity for the work being performed. The fact that a worker may have a disability is not in and of itself sufficient to warrant the payment of a subminimum wage.” And if an employee feels they’re being paid unfairly, they or a family member can petition the department’s wage and hour division for a review. “Every individual who is on the subminimum wage certificate can earn minimum or full prevailing wage if their productivity is high enough,” said Mary Ellen Kunz, director of development and marketing with The Arc of Litchfield County. “This process is heavily regulated by DOL and always leans to benefit the individual working.” Vocational programs like those offered by the Litchfield Arc, Favarh, Kuhn and other agencies hold 14(c) certificates for individuals in programs known as “group-supported employment,” a model intended to teach skills and prepare people for the broader job market. At G.R.O.W.E.R.S. in New Haven, groups of four to six individuals of varying skill levels work together on horticulture tasks, with a job coach to instruct and assist in the work. “Most of those tasks could be performed by one or two people without a coach teaching them,” G.R.O.W.E.R.S. owner Scott Hickman explained in an e-mail. Wages vary from one individual to the next. Certificate holders periodically conduct "time studies," where they measure how long it takes employees to perform the various tasks that make up their job. Each person's wage is then set based on how much longer it takes him or her to perform the task compared to a set standard. "I believe that any individual with physical, intellectual and/ or developmental disabilities that is productive at a rate close to the average of a competitively employed individual should be paid the same as that competitively employed person," Hickman said. "We have actually had on occasion individuals that have 'tested' during their time studies at a competitive rate and therefore were paid at the minimum wage rate." Skill-Building While Working ARI of CT in Stamford supports 21 individuals working on a cleaning crew at subminimum wage rates. The organization contracts with seven local businesses and organizations who pay its crew to clean their offices. “The individuals who work on our cleaning crew are learning skills while they are working. They are not yet ready to work at a competitive job,” said Susanne Kuligowski, president of ARI. “Earning a paycheck is extremely important to them. They learn that hard work is

necessary to earn money and by earning money you get to have the things you want,” Kuligowski said. “By earning a paycheck, they feel valued.” Without the ability to pay subminimum wages, organizations say, their business clients wouldn't be able to afford to hire them. “The special wage certificate allows us to be competitive when we’re bidding on work,” said Kuhn’s Fisher. “Let’s say you have two positions open and … I have a crew of four people. I'm gonna give you a job coach with that, but I need you to pay the wages of four people for two positions,” Fisher said. “That's not advantageous to the employer.” Still, vocational rehabilitation agencies say they offer groupsupported employment only as an alternative for individuals who don’t feel they’re ready for what’s known as “competitive integrated employment” — jobs that pay at or above minimum wage and take place in locations where the employee interacts with people who don’t have disabilities. “Our first and foremost goal is to help an individual find a job that they enjoy and can be successful at,” said Kunz of Litchfield County’s Arc. “Subminimum wage is secondary and a last resort so as not to exclude anyone from gainful employment.” Lauren Traceski and Scott Masson got married last year. They live in an apartment in an adapted housing complex in Canton, across the street from Favarh, which provides them both with employment support, transportation and other services. Masson works Monday through Friday on a Favarh cleaning crew with a job coach. “The job coaches are very important because they help bring us to our jobs and they’re there throughout the day,” Masson told state legislators at a hearing in May. (Masson also writes occasional news posts for Favarh’s website, in a section called “Scott’s Corner.”) Traceski works in a more integrated setting at BeanZ & Co., a coffee shop in Avon that employs “an inclusive workforce” and pays the full minimum wage. Every Tuesday through Friday she runs the register, delivers food, makes drinks and tidies up. Traceski said, “I didn’t know if I was going to like it or what it would entail," when she first landed the job. “Four or five years later, I’m loving it,” Traceski said. CT Mirror photojournalist Yehyun Kim contributed to this story. The Newtown Bee is a proud partner and is sharing this story originally appearing at, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.


What To Know As Fall Vaccinations Against COVID, Flu And RSV Get Underway

By Lauran Neergaard WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Updated COVID-19 vaccines may be getting a little easier for adults to find but they’re still frustratingly scarce for young children. Health officials said Thursday the kid shots have started shipping — and reminded most everyone to get a fall f lu shot too. About 2 million Americans have gotten the new COVID19 shot in the two weeks since its approval despite early barriers from insurance companies and other glitches, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. For the first time, the US has vaccines to fight a trio of viruses that cause fall and winter misery. But health officials worry that shot fatigue and hassles in getting them will leave too many people needlessly unprotected. “We need to use them,” Dr Mandy Cohen, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday. “Right now is the right time.” A f lu vaccination and that updated COVID-19 shot are urged for just about everyone, starting with babies as young as 6 months. Also this year, a vaccine against another scary virus called RSV is recommended for people 60 and older and for certain pregnant women. And for babies, a vaccinelike medicine to guard against that respiratory syncytial virus is expected to arrive next month. “These vaccines may not be perfect in being able to prevent absolutely every infection with these illnesses, but they turn a wild infection into a milder one,” said Dr William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Some things to know: Why Do I Need Another COVID-19 Shot? This year’s vaccine is updated to protect against newer versions of the constantly evolving coronavirus. Already there’s been a late summer jump in infections, hospitalizations and deaths. And so far the new vaccine recipe appears to be a good match to the variants currently circulating. Protection against COVID19, whether from vaccination or from an earlier infection, wanes over time — and most Americans haven’t had a vac-

cine dose in about a year. Everyone 5 and older will need just one shot this fall even if they’ve never had a prior vaccination, while younger children may need additional doses depending on their vaccination and infection history. How Hard Is It To Find COVID-19 Shots? The rollout’s start has been messy. This time the government isn’t buying and distributing shots for free. Now drugstores, doctors’ offices and other providers had to place their own orders, and sometimes canceled appointments if supplies didn’t arrive in time. Some people had to wait for their insurance companies to update the billing codes needed to cover them or risk paying out of pocket. Manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna have shipped millions of doses, and say there’s plenty of supply — and in recent days, more appointments have started opening, at least for people 12 and older. In a recent meeting, insurance companies told HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra they’ve largely resolved the paperwork issues blocking some patients’ vaccinations. The shots are supposed to be provided free in-network to the insured. For the uninsured or underinsured, CDC has opened what it’s calling a “bridge” program to provide free shots at certain sites. Why Can’t Parents Find COVID-19 Shots For Younger Kids? Adult doses got shipped first, CDC’s Cohen said. Doses for the under-12 set have begun shipping, and “the supply is filling out,” she said. Drugstore chain CVS said its doses for ages 5 and older began arriving last week, although supplies vary by location, while its MinuteClin-

ic locations anticipate opening appointments for tots as young as 18 months in the coming days. As for pediatricians, they’ve had to guess how many doses to buy up-front while waiting to learn how much insurance companies would reimburse them for each shot, said Dr Jesse Hackell of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He said early parent demand is heartening but that pediatricians expect to spend lots of time this fall explaining to hesitant families how important COVID-19 vaccination is even for healthy children. On Friday, Pfizer said it was making some changes in hopes of motivating pediatricians to buy more shots for children under 5 — including offering a refund for doses that go unused, even partially used vials. In Redmond, Washington, Ania Mitros got herself, her husband and her 13-year-old vaccinated pretty easily but despite calls to multiple pharmacies and clinics can’t find anyone to tell her when shots for her 8- and 11-year-old will be available. “There need to be clear expectations,” she said. What About Flu Vaccine? Fewer Americans got a f lu vaccine last year than before the coronavirus pandemic –- a discouraging gap that CDC hopes to reverse. People need a f lu vaccine every fall because inf luenza also mutates each year. Like with COVID-19, f lu is most dangerous to older adults, the very young and people with weak immune systems, lung, heart or other chronic health problems, or who are pregnant. There are multiple kinds of f lu vaccines, including a nasal spray version for certain younger people. More impor-

tant, three kinds are specifically recommended for seniors because they do a better job revving up an older adult’s immune system. Can I Get A Flu Shot And COVID-19 Shot At The Same Time? Yes, although one in each arm might be more comfortable. Who Needs The New RSV Vaccine? RSV is a cold-like nuisance for most people, and not as well-known as the f lu. But RSV packs hospitals every winter and kills several hundred tots and thousands of seniors. The CDC says already, RSV cases are rising in the Southeast. RSV vaccines from GSK and Pfizer are approved for adults 60 and older. Drugstores have adequate supplies but some seniors are reporting hurdles such as requirements to get a prescription. That’s because the CDC recommended that seniors talk with their doctors about the new vaccine. Cohen said it was meant just for education about a virus that people may not know much about. “We want folks to ... get access to the vaccine as quickly as possible,” she said. What About Babies And RSV? The FDA also has approved Pfizer’s RSV vaccine to be given late in pregnancy so moms-to-be pass virus-fighting antibodies to their fetuses, offering some protection at birth. The CDC is recommending that pregnancy vaccinations be offered between September and January, when RSV tends to be most common. There’s no vaccine for children but babies whose mothers didn’t get vaccinated in pregnancy may get an injection of lab-made antibodies to guard against RSV. Called Beyfortus, the one-dose shot from Sanofi and AstraZeneca is different than a vaccine, which teaches the body to make its own infection-fighting antibodies, but is similarly protective. Cohen said it should be available in October. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

'Target: BP' Initiative Helps Over 8.6 Million Americans With Hypertension DALLAS, Texas — The American Heart Association and American Medical Association (AMA) nationally recognized 1,709 health care organizations (HCOs) — 400 more than in 2022 — for their efforts to prioritize control of their patients’ blood pressure (BP), a leading preventable risk factor for heart disease, stroke and premature death. According to the 2022 American Heart Association Statistical Update, nearly half of US adults — 121.5 million — are living with high BP. High BP accounts for more than $51 billion in annual health care costs. Target: BP is a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the American Medical Association aimed at reducing the number of adult patients with uncontrolled BP. Target: BP helps health care organizations work to improve BP control rates leveraging the evidencebased AMA MAP framework (Measure Accurately; Act Rapidly; and Partner with Patients), and recognizes organizations committed to improving BP control. In addition to submitting annual data for BP control rates, participants are asked to attest to their team’s commitment to accuracy in BP measurement. The organizations recognized by the Target: BP initiative for their efforts this year represent 47 states or US territories and serve more than 33 million patients, including 8.6 million people with hypertension. Among those organizations, more than half achieved Gold or Gold+ award level recognition, which requires BP control rates of greater than or equal to 70%. About 45% of awardees achieved Silver recognition, which requires BP control data to be submitted and 4 out of 6 evidence-based BP activities to be completed. The remainder received Par-

ticipation-level recognition for submitting data for the first time and committing to reducing the number of adult patients with uncontrolled BP. “Millions of people are affected by high BP and many do not even realize they have hypertension,” said Joseph C. Wu, MD, PhD, FAHA, volunteer president of the American Heart Association, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and Simon H. Stertzer, MD, Professor of Medicine and Radiology at Stanford University. “Research shows gaps in hypertension awareness, treatment and control. Programs like Target: BP help health care organizations and care teams work to close those gaps, lowering blood pressure control rates through patient awareness and education on managing risk factors, such as lifestyle choices and family history, and improving overall wellbeing.” Since the American Heart Association and American Medical Association launched Target: BP in 2015, nearly 3,700 health care organizations have joined the nationwide movement to make heart health a priority — sharing a common goal to improve health outcomes associated with heart dis-

ease, the No. 1 killer in the US. Medical “The American Association and American Heart Association remain focused on ensuring all Amer-

icans have access to quality health care and all physicians and care teams have the support they need to control high blood pressure,” said AMA President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH. “We will continue working together to make hypertension control a top priority and lead efforts to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease and improve the nation’s health.” Target: BP launched new award categories in 2021, emphasizing the importance of accurate BP measurement equipment, regular staff education and training, and reliable systems of care to ensure accurate BP measurement for every patient. More information about Target: BP can be found at

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Local Canine ‘Sidekicks’ Make A Difference In Children’s Psychiatric Health

By Noelle Veillette Operating outside of their duties as beloved pets, dogs with jobs are known to sniff out dangerous materials, assist with rescue, as well as guide and support those with alternate abilities and other physical or sight-related challenges. The bright and well-trained canines from Newtown-based Exceptional Sidekick Service Dogs have a lesser-known specialization and are making huge differences in the lives of their handlers — children and teens with psychiatric disorders. Living with a condition such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or bipolar comes with unique challenges specific to the disability and the person. Representative of Exceptional Sidekick Terra Conway

described the Newtown organization as “a response to the psychiatric needs of the community in Sandy Hook, Connecticut following the tragedy” — referring to the events of 12/14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to Conway, the organization was created in 2016 by Founder Abby Hill when it was becoming apparent Newtown families and children were not able to move on from the events of 12/14 on their own. Conway explained Hill was a dog trainer who provided comfort dogs for the community immediately following the tragedy, and eventually began training service dogs to perform tasks to mitigate psychiatric disabilities. Conway gave an example,

Exceptional Sidekick Poppy, pictured, goes to work every day ensuring her young patients are comforted and put at ease during their stay at the hospital.

being trained for whatever a client’s disability may look like, interrupting behaviors such as crying and self-harm. She added the dogs — mostly “healthy,” “happy-go-lucky” Labrador retrievers — can provide support on “physical levels” and emotional support as well.

explaining some Exceptional Sidekick clients struggle with regular activities attending school or going to the store, so their dog accompanies them and helps them with the associated anxiety. For instance, if a student was to shake their leg as a response to feeling uncomfortable in class, their dog might press their nose and chin on their lap as “almost a furry weighted blanket,” according to Conway. She explained the moment would also serve as an interruption “so the student can identify this moment and use other coping skills” next time. The dog can also “create a buffer” between the handler and other individuals in a store, if closeness was a trigger. Conway said these dogs are

Expanding Hospital Placements While some of these working dogs are finding homes with specific handlers, some Exceptional Sidekicks are clockingin at hospitals every day to help children, as well as many staff members who come in contact with these friendly, furry supporters. Charlotte Beale of Yale New Haven Health was seeking a second dog for its psychiatric inpatient unit for young children, and discovered Exceptional Sidekick on her search. “In the last five or six years, it’s become a trend within the child life field to incorporate facility dogs into your program and be able to offer more services,” said Beale. Beale described that her team was looking for a dog to “help [them] do that work” at the hospital with “directed goals” in mind — helping children cope with being in the hospital and educating them on their treatment. “We were thrilled to find such a local group to support the expansion of our program,” said Beale. Beale works in the outpatient surgery center, and Yale’s second Exceptional Sidekick dog, Poppy, works with her as part of the team. According to Beale, Poppy helps to emotionally prepare kids for procedures. She said some kids are coming to the hospital for the first time, or come with “emotional weight”

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