Social Services Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby has denied a request to close the Wethersfield nursing home operated by a company involved in a contentious contract dispute with the union representing its employees.
In his decision, Bremby cited a lack of information from the operator of Wethersfield Health Care Center. The company had not made financial statements for a related company available in a sufficient manner to assess the request to close, Bremby wrote.
A spokesman for HealthBridge Management, which operates the 210-bed facility, said the company has not yet determined what steps it will take in response to Bremby’s decision. The company could seek a hearing to contest the decision, or reapply for closure.
But the spokesman, Ed Remillard, said the company will move forward with layoffs. The facility now has 92 residents, down from 182 last fall, and Remillard said approximately 145 workers are no longer needed.
Deborah Chernoff, a spokeswoman for the New England Health Care Employees District 1199, SEIU, which represents workers at Wethersfield, said the best case scenario would be for HealthBridge to sell the facility and its other Connecticut nursing homes to another operator.
HealthBridge and 1199 have been engaged in a contract dispute involving workers at six facilities, including one in Milford where workers have been locked out.
But Chernoff noted that selling Wethersfield will likely be more difficult now that many residents have left, which could hurt its financial prospects. It’s not uncommon for residents to seek to leave a nursing home after the operator announces a request to close, even before the state rules on the application.
HealthBridge cited several factors in its request to close the nursing home, including having too few residents to maintain operations, annual financial losses, Medicaid payments that do not cover costs, reduced Medicare payments and a federal and state initiative to move nursing home residents into the community.
But the union questioned HealthBridge’s reasoning and suggested that the request to close was intended to influence contract negotiations at Wethersfield and other unionized facilities operated by the company.
A public hearing in November drew residents and elected officials opposed to the closure.
Bremby’s decision didn’t address the merits of the arguments for closure, but was based on not having enough information to make a decision in the required timeframe.
According to Bremby’s decision, the hearing officer in the case requested information from the company in December that included audited financial statements of related business entities. The company objected, saying the information is private and confidential. In January, Bremby narrowed the request to audited financial statements of Care Realty, LLC, which owns the operating company that holds the Medicare and Medicaid certification for the nursing home.
Bremby’s decision said the company offered to make the audited financial statements available for the Department of Social Services to review for four hours, provided they were not included as part of the application and that the department did not retain a copy of any portion of the financial statements.
Bremby deemed those conditions unacceptable, saying the department can’t rely on documents not in the official record to make its decision.
“Wethersfield Health Care Center is disappointed by the decision, because we believe that our application was complete and that the information provided was fully sufficient to support the Certificate of Need,” Remillard said.
He added that the application included financial statements from Wethersfield Health Care Center.
“We do not believe that it is necessary, appropriate, or required for a related entity like Care Realty, LLC to have to submit its private and confidential financial records, nor are we aware of the DSS having made such requests in any other cases,” Remillard said.
Chernoff said the company’s reluctance to provide financial data to the state is consistent with its posture in negotiations.
“I think that it’s part of a larger picture of being quite willing to very arrogantly exploit what is a lot of money in public dollars to bolster their bottom line with no regard to the community, no regard for the residents and no regard for the people who work there,” she said. “I believe that’s beginning to catch up with them.”
The contracts for workers at HealthBridge facilities expired nearly a year ago. The company said it offered annual wage increases, but the union said that those would be offset by HealthBridge’s requests for increased health care premium contributions and reduced hours.
Nursing home closures have become commonplace in recent years. Last year, four nursing homes closed after being in receivership. In January, DSS approved a request to close Clintonville Manor in North Haven.