(Updated 7:20 p.m.) It’s the 70th day of a strike for 387 nursing home workers and emotions at a two-hour long legislative hearing ran high Thursday, as workers addressed everything from labor issues to patient care.
Maria Parks, a licensed practical nurse at Park Place Health Center in Hartford, said she feels guilty for recommending that her fiancés mother be placed at the facility.
When she visited his mother for the first time since the April 15 strike began, Parks said she discovered that his mother hadn’t gotten out of bed in three days.
“She has not had a shower since we were out on strike,” Parks said. In addition Parks, a handful of her co-workers who also have loved ones at the facilities talked about urinary tract infections and other personal hygiene issues related to the current care being received.
Patty Pickus, another licensed practical nurse at Park Place Health Center, urged lawmakers to help the people stuck in the middle of this dispute—the patients.
Officials from New England Health Care Employees Union SEIU 1199 held up a Department of Public Health report for unannounced visits April 15 through April 29 as evidence things aren’t running smoothly at Park Place Health Center in Hartford.
Workers are also striking at homes in Derby, Ansonia, and Winsted.
In the first two weeks of the strike the Department of Public Health found 39 violations of the public health code at Park Place Health Center, including patients who were not given the right medication or meals and some who were left to sit in their urine and stool.
Sean Murphy, chief financial officer for Spectrum Health Care which owns the four nursing homes, said the allegations of neglect and abuse of its patients is the union’s attempt to “manipulate, and create a false impressions which instill fear.”
“This is a union that abandoned its patients on April 15,” Murphy said Thursday in a phone interview. “These are members that walked out and left good paying jobs with excellent benefits.”
“What we’re seeing today is union propaganda,” Murphy added.
The legislature’s Human Services and Public Health Committee’s promised to investigate the matter further , but it didn’t help that the Departments of Public Health and Social Services declined an invitation to speak at Thursday’s hearing.
Rep. Toni Walker, who chairs the Human Services Committee, expressed her discontent with the decision at the beginning of the hearing.
The state agencies declined to attend the hearing because they didn’t want to jeopardize their arguments in a federal lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities. The lawsuit challenges the states formula for Medicaid reimbursements to 110 nursing homes in the state.
“Due to the fact that the plaintiffs have appealed this ruling and that the case continues, we feel it is in the state’s best interest not to risk negatively impacting our ability to defend our position in court,” DSS Commissioner Michael Starkowski wrote in an email that Walker says she received at 6 p.m. on the eve of the hearing.
“Their focus is their position. Their focus is not about the people we care for,” Walker said. She said if they didn’t want to jeopardize their position in court they could have brought their lawyers with them.
“I am extremely upset,“ Walker said. She said the focus of the hearing was not on the funding as much as it was on the care of the patients.
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said she was “incensed” the two state agencies didn’t show up for the hearing. She said the committees will solicit the help of the State’s Attorney to document the alleged abuse and neglect. She said she heard so many disturbing testimony and stories that lawmakers will meet with the State’s Attorney next week.
At the meeting Prague said they will hand over all the documented alleged instances of abuse and neglect from the nursing staff and family members.
“I heard enough today to make me absolutely livid,” Prague said Thursday evening.
There seems to be a lot of disagreement between the two sides, but the union and the nursing home providers agree the state needs to come up with a better funding system.
Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for New England Health Care Employees Union SEIU 1199 said the state needs to understand “the Medicaid reimbursement system in this state is completely broken.” She said there’s no correspondence between the actual costs of providing care and the rates at which they are reimbursed. She said the periodic re-basing of rates mandated by state statute was suspended in the last budget cycle, removing the one existing way to try to match costs to rates.
The reimbursement system also provides strong disincentives to providers if they attempt to do the right thing by raising staffing levels and providing jobs with reasonable compensation and benefits, Chernoff said.
Matthew Barrett, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said in his written testimony that it’s impossible to look at collective bargaining issues without first considering the financial stress being experienced by nursing homes.
“Connecticut’s payment methodology for nursing facilities is broken,” Barrett said. “On average, the Medicaid funding loss is $20.92 per resident per day for providing quality nursing home care.”
The federal court rejected a request by the nursing homes for an injunction to force the state to fix the funding system and come up with more money for nursing homes. But the lawsuit was not entirely dismissed and CAHCF can still argue inadequate funding drives quality of care down below mandated levels. It has promised to appeal.