2020 In Photos

Front-line health care workers pushed to the limit, extraordinary lines for food, surging demand for shelter  – these were some of the scenes as the pandemic swept through the state during this unprecedented year. Our photographers captured these moments and more as they illustrated a year’s worth of compelling stories. Scroll through the gallery to see C-HIT’s outstanding photography in 2020 by photographers Melanie Stengel, Steve Hamm, Carl Jordan Castro, Carol Leonetti Dannhauser and Cloe Poisson. And a shout-out to those who shared their photos of the moments our photographers couldn’t get to.

Flu Fighters Combat Vaccination Fears in New Haven

On a recent Friday evening, 30 men and women of color in and around New Haven converged on Zoom to share their thoughts about the flu vaccine. Most were apprehensive. Participants said they worried about contracting the flu from the vaccine, that the danger from the flu vaccine is far greater than catching the flu, and that people of color are again being experimented upon by the medical community. “Our trust levels are really low,” one woman at the online event said. “We think it’s just another way of getting to harm us even further.”

During the 2019-20 flu season in New Haven, more people of color than whites were hospitalized due to the flu: 35% of Black and 31% of Hispanic residents compared to 22% of white people, according to data from the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE).

State’s Efforts To End Use Of Toxic Firefighting Foam Slowed During Pandemic

The call came into the Lisbon fire department at 3:07 p.m. on Sept. 9: A vehicle was ablaze at a home on Bundy Hill Road. By the time the fire truck reached the scene, the flames had spread from the car to the side of the home and were moving rapidly. Firefighters immediately began spraying a fire suppression foam containing hazardous chemicals known as PFAS and had the blaze out within minutes. The homeowners were warned not to use or drink their well water, fearing the shallow well was likely contaminated by the toxic foam.

Connecticut’s Halfhearted Battle: Response To Lead Poisoning Epidemic Lacks Urgency

It wasn’t until Bridgeport lead inspector Charles Tate stepped outside the house on Wood Avenue that he saw, immediately, where 2-year-old Rocio Valladares was being poisoned. The paint around a window at the back of the house was deteriorating. Beneath the window was Rocio’s favorite play area, a sloping basement door that was the perfect ramp for an energetic toddler. Next to the basement door was a patch of dirt where she loved to scratch with sticks. White chips of paint were visible in the dirt.

State To Change ‘Problematic’ Health Care Pay Model

For decades, Connecticut and other states have used a fee-for-service model to pay for health care: the provider bills for each service, every consult, every procedure, every test, every pill. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo and many others have come to view that system as seriously flawed. It not only contributes to skyrocketing medical costs but also fails to deliver optimum care, Lembo said. “The incentives in that model are problematic,” Assistant Comptroller Josh Wojcik said. “It incentivizes volume.

Is Food Bank System Contributing To Health Disparities?

The nation’s food bank system, created to provide emergency food assistance, fills a chronic need. Still, it may be perpetuating obesity among those facing hunger, concludes a new report by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The jump in demand for food caused by the pandemic’s economic fallout amplifies the challenges facing those who serve the hungry. Directors of food banks hesitate to request that donors confine their tax-deductible contributions to healthy foods for fear of alienating them, Kristen Cooksey Stowers said in the report published in PLOS ONE. Stowers, assistant professor in the University of Connecticut’s Allied Health Services Department, concludes there are many opportunities to promote health equity among food pantry clients, particularly those from historically marginalized groups.

Obamacare: What’s At Stake If The High Court Strikes Down The Law

Vyanne Dinh, 21, a senior at New York University, will be paying close attention next month when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a lawsuit backed by the Trump administration to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Thanks to the ACA, the law known as Obamacare, a provision allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 26. Dinh, of South Windsor, is covered on her mother’s policy. “If I lost coverage under my parents, I would not know what to do,” Dinh said. “Chances are I would have to handle medical expenses out of pocket, which would definitely cause a financial strain and make me hesitant to go to the doctor’s unless it is a dire emergency.”

“I am also worried about COVID because the risks are too high under current circumstances to be uninsured,” said Dinh.

As Pandemic Grinds On, Domestic Violence Shelters Grapple With Budget Gaps And Growing Needs

Katherine Verano is wrestling with an 830% increase in costs compared with last year for hoteling victims of domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic. After a quiet period during the first months of the pandemic, when much of the state was locked down, domestic violence shelters started running at about 150% capacity during the summer months. When providers ran out of room for social distancing, clients had to be placed in hotels and fed. It’s been a complex time, said Verano, the executive director of Safe Futures, a New London-based nonprofit dedicated to providing counseling, services and shelter to victims of domestic violence in 21 southeastern towns. Safe Futures’ budget for hoteling clients has increased steadily this year.

Survivors Struggle With Lingering COVID-19 Symptoms

In April, Rhonda Eigabroadt, 53, showed up at the ER at MidState Medical Center in Meriden, struggling to breathe. Doctors did not expect her to survive the night, she recalled. Ten days earlier, she had tested positive for COVID-19 and was recovering at home in Bristol before taking a turn for the worse. An occupational therapist at the Litchfield Woods Health Care Center in Torrington, she, along with scores of staff and residents, had contracted the virus during an outbreak. Eigabroadt beat the odds, though.

VA Connecticut Hiring Practices Under Investigation

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations of illegal employment practices at VA Connecticut Healthcare System connected to the hiring of seven employees­­—some in top management positions­—who are all former co-workers of the system’s director. A separate complaint filed by a whistleblower to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs alleges “gross misconduct” in the hiring of staff from the Manchester (New Hampshire) VA Medical Center. It says that “all management positions were pre-selected.”

“VA Connecticut is in turmoil,” wrote the whistleblower in an anonymous complaint filed in August and obtained by C-HIT. The complaints have put a spotlight on the management of Alfred A. Montoya Jr., who has been head of the West Haven VA for almost a year. Montoya was brought in from the Manchester (New Hampshire) VA Medical Center after years of upheaval in the delivery of health care at the West Haven VA, where surgeries were outsourced to Yale New Haven Hospital after deficiencies were found in sterile procedures.