Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT — The Department of Public Health, while saying it hopes a nursing home strike involving more than 2,500 workers can be avoided, insisted Tuesday it will be ready to operate the facilities and care for the 3,000 impacted residents if it has to.

“We at the Department of Public Health are hoping that both labor and management at these nursing homes can come to agreement so a strike can be avoided, but if a strike occurs, we will be ready to do our duty in accordance with state and federal law,” Public Health Commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell said.

The workers at 20 nursing homes across the state have set a May 1 deadline to walk off their jobs unless the state addresses the issue of their stagnant wages and what they say are increasingly difficult working conditions.

“We are currently reviewing credentials of replacement workers and we are preparing to conduct health and safety inspections at these nursing care facilities should a strike commence on May 1st,” Coleman-Mitchell said.

“These preparations include creating a pool of facility inspectors from within DPH to conduct as many on-site monitoring inspections as needed at any time of day during a strike,”  the commissioner said.

SEIU 1199 New England President Rob Baril said workers, the vast majority of whom he said make between $13 and $15 an hour, have voted 1,449 to 78 to go out on strike if the union’s demand for 4 percent raises this year and next are not met by May 1.

Wages for nursing home workers have grown, on average 2 percent, over the past four years.

The union estimates that the 4 percent raises would cost $40 million annually but quickly added that a large portion of the raises would be covered by Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

Union organizers and workers also said that besides low salaries they are dealing with the issue of doing more work, caring for more patients as the population ages in the state, with fewer staffers.

What seemed to emerge following a press conference Monday called by the workers, organizers, and supporters was universal agreement that the workers deserved pay raises.

However, what clearly is at odds is who is most responsible for coming up with the money — the nursing home owners, the legislature, or the governor, who didn’t include money for raises in his two-year budget.

Pursuant to Connecticut law, nursing care facilities are required to submit strike contingency plans to DPH at least five days prior to the beginning of a strike. DPH has responsibility to review those plans to determine if facilities have made adequate arrangements to continue providing patients with uninterrupted services during any strike action.

DPH also has the statutory authority to take emergency action against non-compliant providers. Depending on the severity of the violation, DPH can impose sanctions up to and including: prohibiting nursing homes from admitting new patients, limiting the license of a nursing home in any aspect, such as reducing licensed capacity, or ordering the emergency transfer of patients from a nursing home to another nursing home or hospital.

In extreme cases the department can petition a Superior Court judge to appoint a receiver to oversee all operations at a particular facility if conditions are found to jeopardize the health, safety, and welfare of patients.

Members of the public who have questions or concerns about care provided in a nursing home or who want more information about the department’s monitoring activities can call the Department’s Facility Licensing Division at 860-509-7400 or send an email to DPH.strike.info@ct.gov

Nursing home where strike notices have been issued include the following:

Advanced Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, New Haven;
Autumn Lake Healthcare at Bucks Hill, Waterbury;
Autumn Lake Healthcare, Cromwell;
Autumn Lake Healthcare, New Britain;
Autumn Lake Healthcare, Norwalk;
Bloomfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation;
Chelsea Place Care Center, LLC, Hartford;
Fresh River Healthcare, East Windsor;
Maple View Health & Rehabilitation Center, Rocky Hill;
Orange Health Care Center;
Silver Springs Care Center, Meriden;
Three Rivers, Norwich;
Touchpoints, Bloomfield;
Touchpoints at Chestnut, East Windsor;
Touchpoints, Farmington;
Touchpoints, Manchester;
Trinity Hill Care Center, Hartford;
West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center;
Westside Care Center, Manchester;
Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center.