As strike looms, group home operators prepare to relocate residents

Photo of Julia Bergman

With no movement over the long weekend on a deal to avert a strike of 2,100 group home workers, the operators of 200 affected facilities came one step closer to having to relocate hundreds of residents.

Residents of the homes, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, would have to go to nursing homes or to temporarily live with family members starting Thursday morning, group home operators said Tuesday.

The workers are threatening to walk off the job starting at 6 a.m. Friday if they don’t receive an offer from the state similar to the one presented recently to nursing home employees. That leaves Tuesday night and Wednesday as the window for an agreement before the group home operators must make the first steps toward relocations.

“If we’re able to go what the nursing homes got, that would suffice,” said Stephanie Deceus, vice president for the Group Homes division of SEIU District 1199 New England, the union mounting the strike.

Gov. Ned Lamont and his top aides, who brokered the $267 million nursing home deal to boost pay and benefits through an increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate, have said they are confident they can come up with a similar agreement for group home workers.

Both the nursing home and group home workers are part of District 1199, which is demanding the state increase funding for the long-term care industry so that its members can finally make livable wages with access to affordable health care and a path to retirement.

Pedro Zayas, spokesman for District 1199, said Tuesday the union was still awaiting a proposal from the Lamont administration to improve salary and benefits for group home workers and that it was hopeful an offer would come before Friday’s strike deadline.

For their part, the not-for-profit organizations are pushing for their first increase in state funding in 14 years, have put strike contingency plans in place — as the nursing home operators did leading up to eleventh hour deal from Lamont administration.

Barry Simon, the chief executive officer of Oak Hill, which operates 70 of the affected group homes, said as many as half its 400 clients would need to be relocated to nursing homes if the work stoppage goes forward. If a deal is not reached by Wednesday night, Oak Hill would begin to notify clients and families then that they would be relocated Thursday.

“When you have as many clients as we have, it’s an all-day affair,” Simon said. “Our sincere hope is the governor’s office and the union come to some agreement so we can keep people safe and at home.”

Simon said Oak Hill is working to “keep people together,” in the event relocations happen, so that residents who live together will be placed at the same nursing home, providing them some level of familiarity. But, he said, it’s been a challenge at times to find facilities that have space for groups of residents.

Journey Found Inc., which operates 16 of the sites subject to Friday’s strike notice, is also preparing to relocate at least a dozen of its 51 affected residents.

Many are able to stay with family members for at least one night, said Tracey Walker, CEO of Journey Found, which would rely on administrative and managerial staff to provide direct care for the residents who would remain on site.

The disruption would “certainly be difficult” for a population who relies on “continuinity and things remaining consistent,” Walker said.

Nancy Vito, executive director at Mosaic in Cromwell, which operates 25 of the sites, said finding temporary staff to fill in has been “extremely hard” so the organization is planning to temporarily close nine of its homes and relocate the residents to nursing homes or place them with family members while the strike is going on. In total, 150 of Mosaic’s clients would be affected by work stoppage.

Vito said she “absolutely” understands the plight of the workers but said without an increase in funding, Mosaic can’t support their demands for increased wages.

The other group home operators affected by Friday’s strike deadline are Whole Life Inc. of Stratford, Sunrise Northeast of Hartford, and Network Inc. of Andover.

julia.bergman@hearstmediact.com