February 2011 Issue
February 08, 2011

Local action saves nursing home, jobs

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
The union arranged to have 50,000 of these informational fliers inserted into local newspapers.

The union arranged to have 50,000
of these informational fliers
inserted into local newspapers.

Well-planned union activism helped convince the Albany County Legislature to keep the Albany County Nursing Home open, and to begin the process of building a new facility.

The legislature voted 36-2 in December to stave off yet another attempt to close the home, and even further, to send a certificate of need to the state Department of Health for a new facility.

The Albany County Professional Staff Association, led by President Jeff Bradt, can take full credit for the positive outcome. The local's 70 members remained committed to a year-long, concerted effort to preserve services and care for needy county residents, said Kathleen Donahue, NYSUT's vice president who oversees health care issues for the union.

"This type of action shows what solidarity and focused union action can accomplish," Donahue said. "The local leadership organized members in a grassroots effort to save the nursing home. The local used NYSUT's resources to the fullest to accomplish this great outcome."

Bradt, who attended NYSUT's Leadership Institute last summer, said closing the home by the end of this year would have cost 385 jobs and left 240 elderly residents without a place to live.

The local hired a public relations firm to help them craft a strategic plan to counter powerful political efforts to close the home. As Albany County Executive Michael Breslin pushed for the second consecutive year to close the nursing home, residents were in a "tailspin," said Anthony Nicklas, an Albany County PSA member and the nursing home's pastoral care director.

A focus group was held. Fifty-thousand informational fliers were inserted into local newspapers. And every county legislator was invited to a roundtable discussion. Union members listened to lawmakers' concerns, then explained their own roles as social workers, physical therapists, nurses, respiratory therapists, etc., in providing essential services and dignity to nursing home residents.

This action "gave us a platform for our voices to be heard clearly," explained Nicklas, who said he was grateful to the PSA for helping to save jobs and for helping the residents. He also called it "unacceptable" for the county not to take care of its community and perform its civic responsibility by providing public nursing home care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Many residents would not be accepted elsewhere because their care would be considered too complicated, Bradt said.

Employees, he said, demonstrated how the nursing home is an important aspect of the community. "It's not just about jobs, it's about residents," he said. "Most of these people financially couldn't afford to go anywhere else."

The union will continue to keep legislators informed about the work being done at the nursing home and the care being given to its residents through a quarterly newsletter and a new website now being planned.