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Nursing home operator wants probe after union workers stage walkout, alleged sabotage

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FILE: July 11, 2012: Conn. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman with striking nursing home workers at a facility in Newington, Conn. (AP)

The owner of several Connecticut nursing homes is calling for a criminal probe after union workers staged a mass walkout earlier this month, allegedly vandalizing and sabotaging the health care facilities in the process. Among the allegations is that the workers, supposedly disgruntled over protracted labor talks, switched around the IDs of Alzheimer's patients.

The alleged sabotage, which also purportedly included tampering with medication records and removing patient identification bands, occurred in three of the company’s five Connecticut facilities in the overnight hours before the July 3 strike, according to police reports and the complaint HealthBridge Management filed Thursday with the Chief State's Attorney office.

Company officials suspect the acts were committed by some of the employees who went on strike. Those employees are represented by a chapter of the Service Employees International Union, the largest healthcare union in North America with roughly 1.1 million members.

“It’s especially heinous to do it to somebody with Alzheimer’s,” said a HealthBridge spokesman, adding that dietary information also was compromised. He said the acts put patients' lives at risk and if somebody had a medical emergency in that window "they could have been in grave peril." 

In the formal complaint, company executives also point out similar incidents reportedly occurred in 2001 at several nursing homes involved in labor negotiations with the chapter, New England Heath Care Employees Union District 1199.

“These (recent) incidents posed a serious risk of harm to HealthBridge residents,” the complaint states. “Based on the timing of the recent HealthBridge incidents and the striking similarities between those incidents and the illegal conduct uncovered in the 2001 investigation, HealthBridge believes that these actions are linked to the strike and that the perpetrators could have been connected with the union.”

Top Connecticut Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gov. Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen have throw their support behind the union in the protracted labor talks, with Malloy and Jepsen joining picket lines.

Company executives said Jepsen originally rejected their request for an investigation, saying they should instead call the local police. Jepsen has since recused himself from the investigation, his office confirmed Friday with FoxNews.com. The complaint has been filed with Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane.

Pinpointing the individuals involved is unlikely because the facilities do not have video cameras, in part because they would violate federal patient-privacy laws.

The sides are deadlocked in a roughly 18-month contract dispute involving such issues as pay, medical insurance and retirement plans.

HealthBridge argues that cuts were necessary as a result of a “very difficult” economic situation that includes increased competition in senior care and big cuts in Medicare. The company in April made its so-called “last, best, final offer.”

Organizers for the local union chapter have said the workers voted in June to strike because HealthBridge acted unlawfully by ending negotiations and implementing the final offer. They said changes will result in at least 500 employees, including nurses and medical technicians, losing roughly $10,000 annually over the next six years.

“By their outrageous, inhumane and unlawful actions, HealthBridge has given workers no other alternative,” chapter President David Pickus said after the vote. “This is yet another instance of the wealthy 1 percent waging war on the 99 percent of us who work for a living.”

The union did not return requests Saturday to discuss the alleged vandalism and sabotage incidents but has reportedly said members are not involved.

The HealthBridge facilities offer rehabilitation services, in addition to long-term care for seniors. The company also alleges several other incidents in the complaint, including that equipment such as stethoscopes and wheelchair lifts were hidden.