Department of Social Services Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford answers a question during a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 at West Hartford Town Hall. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The owners of a Willimantic nursing home under investigation for not passing a funding increase to its employees have told officials they are selling the business and want the new owner to decide how the money should be spent.

In a letter to the state Department of Social Services, JACC Healthcare Chief Financial Officer Jack Wynne said the potential new owner, Sam Fisher, has been involved in talks with union officials and that they are “finalizing the terms for distributing the funds to both the union members and remaining staff.”

Once the sale of Vanderman Place is completed, Wynne said, the state funds will be distributed to the roughly 100 employees owed a bump in pay.

“No one is absconding with any money or keeping state money,” Wynne said in an interview with the CT Mirror.

“We have every intention of getting that money to the workforce,” Wynne said. “We decided it was better to wait until the transfer of ownership occurred and allow the new owner to decide how the funds are distributed, but perhaps that was a mistake on our part, because the transfer has taken longer than anticipated.”

Both union officials and state legislators had expressed concerns that JACC could use the sale of the business as an excuse to not give the raises, which had been approved by the state legislature last year and funded through Medicare.

“We are afraid they are going to sell it and take off with the money and take advantage of the state,” Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Windham, said. 

Johnson is one of three legislators who signed a letter to DSS asking it to investigate why JACC hasn’t allocated the 4.5% pay increase to its employees.

The one-time increase was designed to reward nursing home staff at the front line of the pandemic. The virus has taken a heavy toll on nursing home staff and residents over the past two years.

On Tuesday, DSS officials sent the legislators a follow-up letter, signed by DSS Commissioner Deidre Gifford, assuring them they are aware of the situation at Vanderman Place and that they have asked JACC to provide payroll records demonstrating that such wage enhancements were indeed paid to its employees.

“In the alternative, if such wage enhancements had not yet been provided to employees, the Department requested that the facility identify a written plan, including the timeframe, for providing staff with such intended wage enhancements,” Gifford wrote.

Gifford said that DSS could recoup the funds in several ways if the pay raises aren’t granted, including taking the funding out of future Medicare payments or entering into a repayment agreement with the company.

“The Department has various recoupment options available and explores each carefully, so that the agency does not inadvertently harm cash flow in such a way as to negatively impact residents. The Department is exploring all such options in this case.”

Union officials have estimated that JACC is sitting on anywhere from $125,000 to $250,000 in state funding.  

DSS sent a letter to JACC officials on Jan. 11 asking for an accounting of the funding, including payroll records and receipts. The letter gave them 30 days to respond, and Wynne said they have done so.

In the JACC’s Jan. 19 response, Wynne wrote, “We have received your letter dated January 11, 2022 related to the use of the 4.5% rate increase for the use of wage enhancements. Please be advised that JACC Healthcare is in the process of transferring the license of JACC Healthcare Center of Windham (d.b.a Vanderman Place) to Sam Fisher.”

“On Friday January 14th, representatives from the Department of Public Healthcare performed a physical plant inspection, which I believe was one of the last remaining items to be completed prior to the approval of the license transfer. Due to this pending transfer, which is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, Mr. Fisher has been involved in the process of determining the allocation and distribution of the 4.5% funds,” the letter said.

JACC has already sold its other Connecticut facility — Davis Place in Danielson — to Fisher. The staff at that facility has received its 4.5% raise.

“Please be advised it is the intention of both JACC Healthcare and Mr. Fisher to fully utilize the funds to enhance the wages for staff and we will provide additional details in the coming days as the terms are finalized,” the letter said.

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.