Amid contract dispute, closure proposal, Wethersfield nursing home announces 145 layoffs

The operator of a Wethersfield nursing home has notified 145 workers that their jobs will be eliminated as it awaits word on a request to close the facility.

The notices also come amid a contract fight between the operator, HealthBridge Management, and the union representing workers at Wethersfield Health Care Center and five other HealthBridge homes in the state. Unionized workers at another HealthBridge facility, West River Health Care Center in Milford, have been locked out since Dec. 13.

The state Department of Social Services has not yet ruled on the proposal to close the Wethersfield nursing home, but HealthBridge said that the number of residents has fallen since October, when it filed the request to close.

“We are extremely regretful that this step was necessary,” Sharon Donaghue, spokeswoman for Wethersfield Health Care Center, said in a statement released by the company. “Our employees have provided great health care for many years. But we could not continue to operate with nearly 280 employees and with so few remaining patients and residents.”

Of the workers receiving notices, 105 are members of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, and 40 are nonunion. HealthBridge said it’s not yet clear when the layoffs will take effect, but that it’s likely to be March 15 to 28.

Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff blasted HealthBridge’s announcement, which was made in a press release Tuesday afternoon.

“The only reason to make such an announcement about layoffs is to increase the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, thereby frightening remaining residents into feeling that they must leave immediately or there’ll be no one left to take care of them,” she said. “This is consistent with HealthBridge’s utter disregard for anything other than corporate profits.”

The union has contested HealthBridge’s proposal to close the nursing home, questioning the need to shut down and suggesting that the request was intended to influence the ongoing contract dispute. The contracts covering unionized workers at the HealthBridge homes expired March 16, and Chernoff said the company is trying to get workers to agree to a proposal that would destroy their standard of living.

HealthBridge has said it offered wage increases of as much as 8 percent for the first year and 1 ½ percent annual raises after that. The union has said that the company is seeking increased health care premium contributions and reduced hours that would offset any wage gains in the proposal.

HealthBridge has said the need to close Wethersfield Health Care Center stems from having too few residents, annual financial losses, low Medicaid payments, reduced Medicare payments and a federal and state effort to moving nursing home residents into the community.

It’s not uncommon for nursing home residents to leave after an operator announces plans to close, even before closure plans are approved.