Nursing homes might be closed

Photo of Frank Juliano

The management of Danbury Health Care Center and four other area nursing homes told the union representing their employees late Wednesday it is considering filing applications to close the facilities.

Workers in Danbury and at West River Health Care Center in Milford, Long Ridge of Stamford, Westport Health Care Center and Newington Health Care Center have been without a contract since March 2011.

A spokesman for the New Jersey-based management company HealthBridge said representatives of District 1199, New England Health Care Workers, have not agreed to any meaningful concessions.

Employees at West River have been locked out since Dec. 13, while about 200 patients are cared for by replacement workers. Employees at the other four facilities continue to work under the expired contract.

"The affiliated health care centers are dealing with the effects of a massive 11.1 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement that took effect on Oct. 1, and a potential additional 5 percent cut from the end of group therapy, as are all skilled nursing centers in Connecticut," company spokesman Ed Remilard said in a press release.

Michelle Baricko, on the picket line Thursday in Milford, said the threat to close West River and the other nursing homes may be a ploy, "but I didn't think they'd lock us out, but they did that.

"The $700 a month (that workers are being asked to pay) for health insurance is like two paychecks," she said. "Most of us are single mothers and our biggest fear is not being able to put food on the table for our kids."

Union president David Pickus said in a letter to HealthBridge attorney Jonathan Kaplan on Thursday that the company's claim to be negotiating in good faith is untrue, since it has barely budged from its original "take it or leave it" offer.

Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said Thursday the company's letter "is nothing short of extortion. They are holding the care of 1,200 people hostage."

Talks were scheduled for Feb. 23 and 29 before the company suggested it might apply to close the five facilities. Those talks will likely go forward, Chernoff said.

"But we are confused whether we're going to be negotiating over closure or for a new contract.''

The process of closing a nursing facility can be lengthy and complex. The company must file a certificate of need with the state Department of Social Services, a public hearing must be held and the company would have to prove that there are enough beds in the state to accept their patients, officials said.

Libor Jany contributed to this report.

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