Opinion: Editorials

Examiner Editorial: If a nursing home bears the union label, look elsewhere

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Opinion,Editorial

In Connecticut, a local of the Service Employees International Union recently launched a strike against HealthBridge, a nursing home company. But according to the company, just striking wasn't enough for the union workers there. HealthBridge claims that before walking out on July 3, SEIU District 1199 employees committed "multiple illegal and dangerous acts against Center residents."

The alleged incidents would make your grandmother cringe -- and if she lived in one of the facilities, they could have made her die or at least suffer. The director of the facility in Newington, Conn., told police that "the name tags on the patients' doors for the Alzheimer's ward were mixed up. The photos attached to the medical records for these patients were removed, further complicating, but not making impossible, the identification of the patients. Also, dietary blue stickers affixed to the door name tags were removed." Some medical equipment also went missing.

In Danbury, the police report states that "the incidents ranged from clean linens being thrown on the floor to more serious incidents whereby patients' identification wrist bands were removed as well as patient identifiers on room doors and wheel chairs." In Stamford, the glass door on an industrial washing machine was shattered.

Because regulations restrict cameras in medical facilities, there is little chance that anyone will be charged. But the crimes were probably not committed by outsiders. Until their strike began, SEIU employees had unrestricted access to the patients and equipment in the nursing homes affected.

"These types of tactics are unacceptable," said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. "They negatively impact the lives of the residents who live in these nursing homes and the residents' families because the continuum of care gets interrupted." But Malloy wasn't referring to the alleged sabotage. He was referring to HealthBridge's negotiating tactics that had prompted the union to strike. HealthBridge had implemented its "last, best and final" offer to the union after 35 bargaining sessions and almost 17 months of negotiations. The company froze pensions and increased employee health insurance contributions, but promised to increase workers' pay by 17 percent over six years.

This is not the first time an SEIU nursing home strike in Connecticut has coincided with spontaneous acts of sabotage. As Labor Union Report noted, a similar incident occurred during a 2001 strike, sparking then-Gov. John Rowland, a Republican, to launch an investigation. The report issued by Chief State's Attorney John M. Bailey found workers seriously jeopardized the patients' safety by giving chocolate to diabetics, removing "Do Not Resuscitate" stickers, and tampering with medical equipment and patient ID bracelets. According to the Hartford Courant, some drugs went missing and "a door to a medical supply room containing oxygen had been glued shut."

Gov. Malloy ignores the current reports at his own political peril. And the unions that represent nursing home workers will take a well-deserved hit. What worker would want to belong to such an organization? How could the public feel any sympathy for its cause? Most importantly, if your grandmother lives in Connecticut, perhaps it's best to seek medical care in a right-to-work state.

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