Yesterday the New York Times reported that the only public hospital in the District of Columbia would be closingafter nearly 200 years. In recent years a wave of mergers and acquisitions has swept the health care industry,consolidating power in the hands of a handful of massive private health care companies and shifting it from localhealth care facilities and publicly funded hospitals to national and often multinational corporations. Publichospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions serving the poor and uninsured have borne the brunt of this shift.
Last Week nearly 4500 health care workers in Connecticut went on strike at more than 40 nursing homes across thestate, in a labor dispute with national implications for service employees. The workers, who have been without acontract since March 15, are demanding higher pay and increased staffing levels.
The nursing homes affected by the strike are privately owned but heavily funded by the state’s Medicaid program,giving the state government unusual leverage in the outcome of the dispute. The Union has therefore soughtLegislative support to raise staffing levels and allocate more funds to the nursing home industry. Opponents of theUnion’s demands say that strapped health care facilities cannot afford the wage and staffing increase.
The average wage for nursing home employees in CT is $10.50 for non unionized employees; nationwide it is just under$9/hr.
Union officials have also criticized Connecticut Governor John Rowland for authorizing the use of more than $4millionin state Medicaid funds to pay for out of state replacement workers during a one day strike in March. The Governor,who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the health care industry, has reportedlypledged to pay for replacement workers for up to thirty days in the current strike, at an estimated cost to the stateof $50 million.
- Jane Mcalevey, organizer with District 1199 New England, the New England Health Care Employees Union.
- Tony Fatone, Executive Vice President, Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities.
- Tom Swan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group.
- Debbie Fibley, nurse at Mediplex of Stamford, which is part of the Sunbridge healthcare chain. Sunbridgehas just settled with the union.