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After surprise sale, New Hope's Saint Therese nursing home facing another strike

Star Tribune - 6/11/2024

For the second time in three months, 200 nursing home workers announced a strike at the Saint Therese nursing home in New Hope, creating more concern for patients, their families and the staff themselves.

The potential strike comes amid a pending surprise sale of the facility and continue complaints about alleged unfair labor practices. The upcoming strike will start Saturday and last five days. The March strike was only for one day.

Officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said they are meeting this week to review what steps to take in order to protect the home's 280 elderly patients in assisted living, long-term care, memory care and other units across the 11-acre campus.

"MDH has been made aware of the intent to strike and anticipates receiving Saint Therese's strike plan soon. MDH plans to meet with the management of Saint Therese [this] week to discuss options for securing the care and well-being of residents should a strike take place," said MDH spokesman Gary Bowman in an email, adding the state understands "how unsettling news of a possible strike might be for both residents and their families."

Members of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa (SEIU) notified Saint Therese on Thursday of their intent to walk out starting this weekend.

Some families said they learned about the ownership change — Compass Healthcare has plans to buy the nursing home by Aug. 1 — in a letter one week ago. Those same families are now concerned about what both a strike and the sale could mean for their low-income, elderly parents, some of whom rely on government waivers to receive the needed care at the home.

Saint Therese spokeswoman Barbara Hembergersaid the new owners have agreed to continue accepting elderly waivers and Medicaid from existing residents and patients. Compass will also honor the price increase Saint Therese previously notified patients would go into effect July 1.

As for the strike, Saint Therese issued a statement saying, it "hopes to resolve matters with the union prior to the scheduled strike," but it is but "fully prepared to take care of the residents at Saint Therese of New Hope if that does not occur." The home said it is "implementing a detailed preparedness plan to ensure" it continues to provide quality care despite the upheaval.

If the strike proceeds, it will mark the second time this year workers from St. Therese hit the picket line. Employees were among 1,000 nursing home workers from a dozen Twin Cities nursing homes who went on strike March 5 because of pay, staffing and contract complaints. Eleven of the 12 homes reached new labor agreements. Saint Therese did not.

SEIU officials said frustration about the contract — which expired in October —fueled the decision to strike again, as did pay concerns and the sale.

"Saint Therese not only didn't move towards a fair settlement, they announced [last] week that they would be selling the home," said Rasha Ahmad Sharif, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota executive vice president. Sharif added that timeline is less than the 90-day notice the union contract requires.

The sale also highlights concerns about future pay, she said. In the fall, Saint Therese started paying nursing assistants a "market-rate adjustment" of $5 more an hour. That brought worker pay to about $20 an hour. However, the home included the $5 paycheck addition under a non-permanent-wage category, Sharif said, and workers want the $5 included in a new labor contract to ensure they won't lose the pay when ownership changes.

"We want that set before the new company comes in," said Mofoba Kanneh, a 23-year St. Therese certified nursing assistant who said the company's failure to update the contract makes him "incredibly frustrated."

"It doesn't feel like we are being respected by the management," Kanneh said. "We have been bargaining since last November, not making progress, and now we find out that all this time they were going to sell the company."

In a statement, Saint Therese officials said they "understand that the employees might be anxious about the planned sale of our New Hope community" but said they offered to meet with the union right after making the sale announcement last week. In that meeting, the home assured the union it was "not planning to change" the existing pay structure.

SEIU insists the commitment be in writing.

In a statement, Saint Therese CEO Craig W. Abbott said the decision to sell the 60-year-old nursing home was "very difficult," but "Saint Therese and Compass Healthcare will work closely over the next several weeks to ensure a smooth and seamless transition."

He added there are no plans to sell Saint Therese's other Minnesota facilities in Brooklyn Park, Woodbury or Shoreview,, nor are there plans to sell the location in Monroe, Mich.

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