Suzanne Clark and SEIU 1199 home care workers rally at the Capitol

They struggled through the pandemic. They fought to win a new contract with the state and months after securing it, they still haven’t received their bonuses which has caused some to get evicted and others to forgo necessary medical treatment. 

“We’re existing, but we’re barely surviving,” Kara O’Dwyer, a home care worker from West Haven said Wednesday. 

She said her mother, another home care worker, recently got a cut on her arm and it got infected. She laid in bed for three days instead of seeking medical treatment because she didn’t have health insurance. 

Her mother, Carolyn Artes, also of West Haven, eventually went to the emergency room. 

“I was lucky it didn’t end up in my bloodstream,” Artes said. “I went just in time.” 

But there’s no money to pay for the treatment she received and every day she was unable to work, she didn’t get paid. 

That’s the reality for four home care workers who are on the cusp of homelessness or a medical crisis. 

The union representing them, SEIU 1199, is blaming Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration for failing to act saying it has denied 10,000 workers who care for Connecticut’s most fragile residents a health insurance stipend, paid time off, and a promised bonus for hours worked between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. 

A spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management said they have been clear with the union from the very start about what they would need to do to implement the policy. 

“The health insurance premium support, paid time off, and bonuses – require approval by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” Chris Collibee said. 

“During union negotiations, the PCA Workforce Council repeatedly stated and made clear in the plain text of our contract that these benefits are effective upon legislative and CMS approval, which are beyond the control of the Council or state agencies. There was never a commitment to an implementation date,” he added. 

He said they are still exploring what opportunities may be available to the home care workers on the state’s health insurance exchange, including open enrollment, and any potential special enrollment periods, particularly one that might be initiated in response to the anticipated conclusion of the public health emergency. 

Workers are expected to deliver a petition to Lamont’s budget office later today. There are more stories. 

Kyanna Ricketts, a home care worker from Hartford, was evicted from her apartment and is now living on her mother’s couch. 

“Had the state of Connecticut implemented the paid sick time and paid out the bonus we earned, I would not have been evicted,” Ricketts said. 

Isaac Kolonziaa, a live-in, home care worker, said has a rash on his head that he needs to get biopsied, but he keeps having to put off the surgery because he doesn’t have insurance. 

“Disappointed,” Kolonziaa said. 

He said he had scheduled a surgery for Oct. 5 because the payment was supposed to come on Oct. 1, but that date has come and gone. 

To qualify for the health insurance stipend, home care workers must show a denial letter from Husky and Covered CT program, and confirm that they have no other access to insurance through another job, a spouse, or a parent. In terms of the lump sum bonus, a home care worker, also known as a personal care assistant, must currently remain active to qualify for the bonus payment.

“Lamont’s inaction will leave thousands of home care personal care attendants without access to health care and without their signing bonus until the state receives approval from the federal government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” the union said in a statement. 

The state is also arguing that they have to be serving the same client they had during the April 2021 through March 2022 period spelled out in the contract. 

The union argues that’s ridiculous because many of these clients go into and out of hospitals and nursing homes and when that happens the home care worker must find a new client in order to continue to get paid. They said having the same client, especially during a pandemic, is a ridiculous bar to meet.