Wethersfield Health Care Center to cut 145 jobs by March

There are about 60 fewer patients since the owner of Wethersfield Health Care Center told the state it would like to close the nursing home — and as a result, HealthBridge Management announced Tuesday, it will be laying off 145 of the staffers there in March.

Although the nursing home is obligated to give the state 60 days' notice on the mass layoffs, it's unusual that a company would choose to publicize that layoff.

"Normally a last thing a nursing home operator would do is send out a press release saying they're cutting staff," said Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union, District 199, which represents 105 of the workers who will be laid off in mid- to late March.

She said the state still has another month before it has to weigh in on HealthBridge's request to shut down the nursing home, which the company says has lost money for years. But she said that by publicizing its downsizing, it makes it more likely that residents will flee, making it less likely the nursing home can find a buyer — the outcome politicians said they wanted at the public hearing on the request in November.

"We are extremely regretful that this step was necessary," Wethersfield Health Care Center spokeswoman Sharon Donaghue was quoted as saying in a press release. "Our employees have provided great health care for many years. … We will do what we can to help those employees who will be affected by these layoffs to find positions with other employers."

In November, the company said it had about 250 employees in Wethersfield.

"Whatever their financial arguments are for closing Wethersfield, this is also part of their negotiating strategy," Chernoff said. The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board arguing that the push to close the home was an effort to intimidate union members at homes in Wethersfield, Newington, Milford, Danbury, Westport and Stamford. The regulators have not yet weighed in on the charge.

Chernoff said that HealthBridge's actions — including locking out 100 workers in Milford since December — have not caused workers to say the union should agree to more concessions.

HealthBridge has said it would end the lockout if the union would agree that its workers would no longer earn credits toward a pension. The two sides have no negotiations scheduled.

"People are frightened certainly, but they're also angry," Chernoff said. "They have something worth preserving and they're going to fight to preserve it."

Source: Courant