The staff of Alaris Health at Boulevard East — who care for nearly 100 residents and weathered the COVID-19 pandemic at the nursing home in Guttenberg — got the news in a federally mandated notice.
The long-term care facility is shutting down in November and their jobs are being eliminated.
Meanwhile, union officials who represent workers at the facility said residents are already being moved out.
It is the first nursing home in the state to close since the pandemic, state officials said.
Many long-term care facilities have run into mounting financial difficulties stemming from the viral outbreak. The operators of Boulevard East gave no indication that money was behind the move, although they had once considered a plan to demolish the 108-bed facility and replace it with a 15-story residential building with scenic views of the Manhattan skyline. They also denied they were permanently closing, but offered no specifics of their plans.
“This is a temporary suspension of services to better serve its residents during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Alaris Health said in a statement. “We’re making these changes for the benefit of our residents and to improve their care during these challenging times. These changes are in no way connected to any labor issues or real estate transactions. Additionally, employees have been offered employment by other Alaris Member Health Centers.”
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But the nursing home last week sent out formal notices to 100 Alaris workers under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, known as WARN notices, which require at least 60 days advance warning of any plant closing and mass layoff affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment.
New Jersey Department of Health officials confirmed the nursing home notified the state of the imminent closure, and had sent a letter to Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli in May regarding issues at the facility, built in the 1960s, and the need to modernize.
“The department has received verbal notification of the facility’s plan, including the movement of residents,” said spokeswoman Donna Leusner. They expect a formal application to be filed within 30 days.
Alaris Health is headed by Avery Eisenreich and has 16 other nursing long-term care facilities in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties in New Jersey. Each is operated under separate corporate entities, according to state records.
The facility in Guttenberg is relatively small, licensed for 108 beds. In its most recent quarterly census with the state, it had been averaging 91 residents. In addition, officials there said it was hard to isolate patients with COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic, with many three-and four-person rooms.
There have been ongoing labor issues at the facility. According to union officials, their members have been working under an expired contract at Boulevard East since 2014 and some who were sickened on the job by the coronavirus have found themselves responsible for thousands in medical bills.
“We are deeply concerned by the haste by which this closure is being carried out,” said Milly Silva, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “Our members report witnessing residents leaving the building in tears because they didn’t want to leave, and at least two being brought back to the facility after demanding to be returned.”
She said workers felt betrayed, in addition to the trauma the situation may be causing long-time residents.
“Workers’ jobs are now being abruptly terminated after they spent so many months serving on the frontlines of COVID-19,” Silva said. “Some workers report that they have been instructed by the company to write their own letters of resignation, which would jeopardize their ability to collect unemployment.”
At least 11 residents died of the coronavirus at the Guttenberg nursing home, according to state records. There were 35 residents who tested positive, along with 42 staff members, those records show. No members of the staff died.
Earlier this year, Alaris Health came under fire in connection with allegations by healthcare staff that administrators at its Hamilton Park facility in Jersey City withheld personal protective gear and pressured employees to work even when they were sick. Alaris has denied the allegations.
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