Union out on strike against N.Y. nursing home

Caregivers at a Bronx nursing home hit the picket line yesterday. Key among the issues raised by the health care workers - no health care. Workers at Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center at 3400 Cannon Place in the west Bronx have been working without a contract for several years, according to their union, the Service Employees International Union 1199.

But what pushed the 220 workers to walk out at 6 a.m. was their recent loss of health benefits. Late last year, just before the holidays, the Kingsbridge nursing home unilaterally ended employee health benefits, suddenly stripping the workers and their children of their health insurance.

The nursing home is $2.5 million in arrears to the workers' health benefit fund, and as a result, workers and their families lost their health care coverage completely last November.

The union says the facility's owner, Helen Sieger, has refused to negotiate in good faith to resolve the dispute, thus forcing the strike.

Management of the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center did not return calls.

The 350-bed nursing home is run as a for-profit facility, and has been ranked among the city's most profitable nursing homes.

Health Department figures show that in 1999, Kingsbridge made more than $3 million in profits - with Sieger pocketing $700,000 of that in salary.

The following year, the Daily News toured the facility in the middle of the night and found just two or three nurses' aides watching over as many as 40 patients.

Overstretched staffing was cited as a factor in the suicide of a patient who leapt from his seventh-floor window in 2002.

Police said the man had a history of depression, but officials at Kingsbridge said he was not on a suicide watch.

At the time, nurses' aides complained of being so understaffed they didn't have time to properly care for patients.

The last time the workers there had a contract was 2000, the year The News investigation cited aides' complaints that due to short-staffing some patients lost weight because staffers didn't have adequate time to monitor their food intake.

The probe also revealed patients were reportedly left in soiled diapers for long periods because there were not enough staff members available to change them.


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