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Woman who set deadly Conn. fire being moved to R.I.

HARTFORD — A mentally ill woman who set a fire that killed 16 fellow patients at a Hartford nursing home in 2003 will be transferred to a Rhode Island facility that can better treat her multiple sclerosis, under an order approved Monday by a Connecticut judge.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander ordered Leslie Andino, 33, moved from Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown to the Berkshire Place Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Providence.

“Connecticut Valley Hospital doesn’t have the skilled nursing ... to treat someone in her condition, said Andino’s public defender, John Stawicki, who said Andino can no longer walk and needs around-the-clock care.

A transfer date hasn’t been set. Andino will be moved from a high security unit at Connecticut Valley Hospital to a secure unit at Berkshire Place, Connecticut officials said. But Berkshire Place Administrator Joe Sousa said Monday that no decision had been made on whether to accept Andino.

“This is not a definite deal by any stretch of the imagination,” Sousa said. “There are still a lot of uncertain questions.”

Sousa said Berkshire received an inquiry from social workers trying to find a suitable facility for Andino. He said the facility is now considering whether it would be a good fit for Andino, and whether she has the financial resources to pay for care.

The fire at Greenwood Health Center on Feb. 26, 2003, broke out when Andino set her bed on fire while flicking a cigarette lighter. The blaze forced patients into the cold. Ten people died that day and six more died later.

The blaze was the 10th deadliest nursing home fire in the U.S. since 1950, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Andino was charged with 16 counts of arson murder, but was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to psychiatric care at Connecticut Valley Hospital under $1 million bail. A judge reviews Andino’s case and condition each year.

The fire renewed concerns nationwide about young and middle-age people with mental illness being placed in nursing homes with elderly residents and the potential for violence.

Andino didn’t appear in court Monday.

The prosecutor, Executive Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Gailor, said Berkshire Place agreed to take Andino.

“The facility is aware of her prior incidents and is willing to take her,” Gailor said immediately after the court hearing. Reached later in the day about Sousa’s comments, Gailor said the transfer was still a done deal as far as he knew.

Mary Kate Mason, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which oversees Connecticut Valley Hospital, said the agency would never put a plan before a judge without getting approval from all parties involved. Mason said she could not discuss individual patients because of privacy laws.

Officials said at least some of the cost of caring for Andino will shift from Connecticut to Rhode Island at some point in the form of Medicaid expenses. Mason said her agency couldn’t comment on the cost of Andino’s care.

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