8/18/07

Patients hurt by Long Island SEIU caregivers strike

As home health care workers picketed outside the Hempstead and Ronkonkoma offices of Premier Home Health Care Services Inc. for the fifth consecutive day Friday, some of the company's patients expressed frustration at the quality of care - or lack of care - they have received this week. About half of Premier's 250-member workforce in Nassau and Suffolk counties went on strike Monday demanding higher pay and health insurance. They belong to 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

Premier and 1199 entered negotiations Thursday, said 1199 spokeswoman Leah Gonzalez, but no resolution has been reached. Gonzalez said she did not have information about when the groups would continue negotiations, but workers will return to work Saturday.

In the workers' absence, Premier is responsible for the patients' care, but as of Friday, Braddie Greene, 76, of Riverhead, said he had not received a caregiver.

Greene, who usually has an aide Wednesdays and Fridays, said he received a call from a Premier employee Wednesday to say the company was trying to find someone to come to her home.

"She was kind of watering it down," Greene said. "She said the girls would be off all this week. She didn't tell me why." Under the National Labor Relations Act, a group is required to give 10 days notice of its intention to strike or picket a health care institution. Premier was given a month's notice of the strike, said Gonzalez, allowing time to arrange care for its patients.

Calls to Premier's corporate office in Westchester County were not returned Thursday and Friday. It is unclear how many patients Premier serves on Long Island.

Naum Feldman, 81, of Long Beach, said through an interpreter that he usually receives an aide for more than four hours every day, but he did not see a replacement caregiver until Wednesday.

The World War II veteran of the Russian army speaks only Russian, and his words were translated by 1199 organizer Valentina Furman, who also speaks Russian.

Feldman said he had heart bypass surgery six years ago and has been in and out of the hospital for heart and kidney problems.

Premier called him Wednesday to say they would send someone at 2 p.m., but when the worker did not arrive until 2:45, Feldman sent her away. He is a military man, he said, and did not want her if she was late.

Feldman received another aide Thursday and Friday, but he said that if the agency does not send his original caregiver Saturday, he will change agencies because "they are unfair to workers."

"The workers have to care for old, sick people," Furman said, translating Feldman's words to English. "They're working too hard for too little."

The union says Premier's workers receive less than $8 an hour and do not receive health insurance or paid holidays and sick days.

Hempstead resident Verdell Morris, 94, who suffers from Alzheimer's, also received a replacement aide Monday through Wednesday that her daughter described as "inadequate."

Wilhelmina Bell, 67, of New Paltz, N.Y., who is visiting her mother, said the aide fed Morris fruit after being instructed not to do so, and she did not properly assist Morris in daily activities, like bathing.

"Also, she left my mother alone to make a personal telephone call without asking. We never leave my mother alone," Bell said.

The replacement unexpectedly did not return Thursday, and Bell declined the replacement aid offered by the agency Friday.

Morris's regular caregiver of four years usually spends every day at her home from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"If you have a person like her caring for your mother like she was her own mother, and she doesn't even have health insurance -- that is just unbelievable to me," Bell said. "My family supports the strike 100 percent."

(newsday.com)

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