Nursing Home Strike Bills Come Due
By LISA CHEDEKEL
The Hartford Courant
July 28, 2001
How much of the nursing homes' bills for "strike-related" costs incurred during the recent union walkout should taxpayers pick up?
That's what an auditor hired by the state Department of Social Services will be determining in the coming weeks, as the firm reviews reams of documents provided by nursing homes seeking state reimbursement.
Gov. John G. Rowland had authorized the state to make up-front payments to the 39 affected homes for replacement workers and other strike-related expenses necessary to protect "the health and safety" of residents. The homes have had to document their costs to the state.
No total is available of the bills submitted.
The New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, which represents the workers who went on strike in March and May, is raising questions about some of the homes' claims for reimbursement. Among them: a request for reimbursement from one nursing-home chain for $5,299 to cover airfare and hotel rooms for managers and employees of the company who were called in from California and other states during a one-day strike in March; a $500 payment made by most homes to the statewide nursing-home association for a "public relations campaign"; and tens of thousands of dollars in fees to lawyers for strike-related work.
"It's hard to justify these expenses as protecting the health and safety of residents," said Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for the union.
Toni Fatone, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities, said the homes will abide by what the state determines as "allowable" costs under Medicaid rules. She said the homes aren't expecting all their bills to be covered, but they believe their legal costs are eligible. Even with reimbursement, the homes will have to absorb an average of 30 percent of their eligible costs, she said.
The state Department of Social Services, in a memo earlier this year to the nursing homes, said that replacement staffing, transportation of workers, security and "reasonable legal fees" related to the strike would be eligible for reimbursement.
State officials plan to seek federal Medicaid reimbursement for some of the costs. The bulk of the state's tab is for replacement workers, who were paid about twice the typical wage of union workers.