Christine Stuart photo

After months of negotiations with no progress toward a new contract, members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199 have authorized strike notices at eight nursing homes in a handful of towns.

If no progress is reached by 6 a.m. Wednesday, May 20 more than 800 employees may go on strike for three days at nursing homes in Ansonia, Colchester, Glastonbury, Hartford, Meriden, Windsor, and Winsted.

Nursing home operators are demanding reductions in health and pension benefits that would deprive workers’ children of health insurance and force many workers to retire in poverty, Deborah Chernoff, spokesman for SEIU District 1199, said Monday.

Nursing home operators are shifting the costs of health and pension benefits to the employees and blaming the cost shift on the legislature, Chernoff said.

“But the nursing homes can’t just say it’s the legislature’s fault,” she said. “We’re hopeful we’re going to reach a deal.”

With little help from the state, nursing home operators are struggling too.

Both Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee have recommended no increase in the basic Medicaid rate paid to homes for each of the next two fiscal years.

One of the largest components of this fiscal year’s $18.4 billion state budget involves the nearly $1.4 billion in Medicaid funds that will be paid to most of the 240 nursing homes across the state. More than 3,300 workers at 30 of those homes are SEIU District 1199 members.

Matthew Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said Monday that in the aggregate the legislative proposals amount to a 20 percent reduction over the next two fiscal years.

“There’s clear evidence that the lack of funding is causing trauma and destruction to the nursing home industry,” he said. “The strikes in addition to the significant cuts is just another sign that the industry is in distress for lack of funding.”

At least five homes are in bankruptcy,10 are in state receivership and some have even had to close their doors, he said.

While he respects that lawmakers are dealing with an unprecedented budget crisis, Barrett said they have to consider its impact on the nursing home population.

When asked about the pending strike Rell said she expects that the nursing homes will submit their contingency plans to the state Department of Public Health. Each of the homes is required to have a contingency plan that details how residents will be cared for during a strike.

The nursing homes where a strike is possible include Hilltop Health Care in Ansonia, Laurel Hill Healthcare in Winsted, Park Place Health in Hartford, Kimberly Hall North and South in Windsor, Meriden Center in Meriden, and Salmon Brook Center in Glastonbury.

Three of the homes are operated by Spectrum and five of the homes are operated by Genesis.