Workers’ Correspondence

After 35 years of service in the New Haven, Conn., community, Atrium Plaza, otherwise known as Winthrop Health Care, one of the city’s largest nursing homes with a population of 240 beds and 285 employees, has closed its doors to the public.

The home has for years served old and young residents in the New Haven area as well as other neighboring towns in Connecticut and plays a role in the local economy. Most former employees at Atrium Plaza are minorities and single parents with children in school or college and have given the best of their years to the community of New Haven. Many have 20 to 30 years of service.

Former residents had been there many years. One resident lived there for 23 years. She was admitted the same year I was employed. She was 45 years old when admitted.

Closure of the nursing home had a great impact on the residents physically and psychologically. Most residents experienced emotional stress, knowing that they had to be uprooted from a permanent accommodation, only to be placed into a far and distant unfamiliar environment away from their trusted caregiver and family members. Some faced separation anxiety by losing a familiar roommate.

Family members became apprehensive as most New Haven families use public transportation to make routine visits on a weekly basis, and to commute distances especially in the bad weather for them is very stressful.

The employees at Atrium fought long and hard to keep the residents, and to prevent closure of the home. The mayor, along with SEIU 1199 health care workers union and state elected officials, put up a hard struggle to save the home, to save residents’ choice of living and preserve jobs for employees.

But the state of Connecticut under the direction of the former governor deemed that closing the home and moving the residents to distant homes would be a better solution, instead of providing adequate staffing or funding for quality of life for residents, their families and employees.

The owner had filed for bankruptcy after the state decided not to increase bed funding for residents enough to pay for appropriate staffing that would provide adequate care. As a result, 285 employees were left without jobs and were not compensated with severance packages for their long years of dedication to the community.

At present, the majority of workers are still unemployed and other nursing homes are refusing to employ those workers from Atrium Plaza because of their affiliation with the union. Workers were told by one facility that “we don’t have a union and we don’t want one here.” I think that is an act of discrimination.

Personally, I have sent out 17 résumés. I have only had three interviews, for which I had to keep calling to remind these places. Other facilities accepted the résumé and did not even bother to reply. Of those places that interviewed me, only one replied to say the position has been filled.

One would think that having three degrees, one in gerontology and two in social work (BSW, MSW) multiple skills and 23 years of working experience would merit a job. To qualify for a job these days you may have to lie about your age and consider changing the color of your skin, even though you have experience and qualifications.

The workers of Atrium Plaza were among the best caregivers in Connecticut nursing homes, as we could successfully deal with residents that other homes and hospitals had found to be difficult. Our population was multicultural, with a range of age groups and diagnoses. This is why we should be compensated by receiving a severance package by the state of Connecticut for all the hard work we have done. The employees of Atrium Plaza Health Care, now called dislocated workers, are calling on the community to speak out against nursing home closures to prevent displacement of elders, especially for those who will be placed too far apart from their families.

We are also calling on state elected officials to be more vigilant in the operation of nursing homes which are too quick to file bankruptcy for their benefit and seek to displace residents and employees out of their homes and employment. It’s time to put an end to people like nursing home operators who only use the elderly at their convenience as a profit-making object.

— Verelda Wilson