HealthBridge appeals judge’s ruling

New Jersey-based HealthBridge managed health care centers is appealing the injunction issued by a federal judge demanding that the company reinstate workers at five of its Connecticut nursing homes.
“We are acting in the best interests of our residents,” HealthBridge spokeswoman Lisa Crutchfield in a statement. “Their well-being is paramount to us.”

On Tuesday Federal Judge Robert N. Chatigny granted an injunction filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to temporarily halt HealthBridge’s unilateral implementation of a new contract at the five nursing home — West River Health Care Center in Milford, Long Ridge in Stamford, Danbury Health Care Center, Newington Health Care Center, Westport Health Care Center. About 600 union employees of the homes have been on strike since early July. he walk-out was in response to HealthBridge instituting a “last, best and final” contract after more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the union. The union representing the workers, New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, has argued that the contract is unfair and was illegally implemented.

The judge’s ruling demands that workers be allowed to return to their jobs by Monday, Dec. 17.

Crutchfield said the injunction “unnecessarily short circuits the established venue – the ongoing NLRB trial – in which this issue should be resolved, and we continue to be confident that we will ultimately prevail in this matter.”

She also argued that reinstating the workers isn’t in the best interest of the nursing home residents. HealthBridge has alleged that workers at Danbury, Long Ridge and Newington committed acts of sabotage shortly following the July walkout. The company has claimed that residents’ wristbands were removed and discarded, names on patient doors and wheelchairs were changed, stickers indicating how residents could safely be fed were removed and the names of residents in Alzheimer’s and memory care units were switched.

“Implementation of an injunction returning the striking SEIU members to the workplace would expose residents to the very people who sought to do them harm during the July 3 walkout,” Crutchfield said. “The acts of criminality committed against our residents by some of those going out on strike on July placed our residents in serious jeopardy, and we find it unfathomable that these individuals would be returned to care for our residents before those responsible are identified and prosecuted.”

She said the alleged acts of sabotage are the subject of an ongoing investigation by Connecticut’s Chief State’s Attorney.

HealthBridge also filed a motion to stay the implementation of the federal judges order, but union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said that motion wasn’t granted. Chernoff said HealthBridge’s appeal “is nothing we didn’t expect.” However, she said, unless a stay is granted, HealthBridge has to comply with the judge’s order during the appeals process.

Chernoff said it’s not clear exactly when workers will return to their jobs, as the union needs to discuss that with HealthBridge “they haven’t talked to us” about that yet.

Amanda Cuda