Putting Donors Ahead of Seniors

Senate Dem celebrates victory of union workers who allegedly risked lives of patients

HealthBridge strike / AP
March 4, 2013

A Senate Democrat who has championed legislation to combat elderly abuse marched in lockstep with union nursing home workers who are alleged to have put the lives of patients at risk during a labor walkout.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal attended a victory rally for more than 600 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members as they returned to work on Sunday after an eight-month strike.

"I came to celebrate with you," he told the union members. "This sends a message to all working people, all middle-class people, that you can fight. You can win."

The tactics employed in the fight have led to an investigation by Connecticut State Police. When the workers walked out on July 3, HealthBridge Management, which owns the nursing home facilities, allegedly discovered tampered medical records and identification documents on its patients, some of whom suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lorraine Mulligan, a veteran nurse, told the National Labor Relations Board and the federal judge who ordered HealthBridge to rehire the workers that the union members posed a direct risk to the nursing home residents.

"The nature and severity of the … incidents … put the safety, health, and well-being of the residents of those facilities in immediate jeopardy," she said in a legal brief filed by HealthBridge. "A court order requiring the reinstatement of any of them or additionally those who had knowledge of sabotage and failed to act would expose the residents to immediate danger and put them at risk of suffering serious harm or death."

Blumenthal has called for enhanced regulations to crack down on senior citizen abuse, introducing the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act in February.

"A spreading epidemic of seniors who are abused or exploited by family or caregivers must be stopped," he said in a statement. "Rigorous screening and reporting to detect and deter abuse, physical or financial, is necessary. … This measure would require tough national standards for screening and reporting so wrongdoers can be stopped and prosecuted."

Some Connecticut political insiders blasted Blumenthal for catering to unions and betraying the principles he championed in the Senate.

"That Blumenthal would claim to protect seniors and then cheer on the hiring of saboteurs shows how little he cares about his actual constituents, instead only focusing on the interests groups who fund his campaigns, like SEIU," one critic, who requested anonymity, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Blumenthal’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Blumenthal has raised $323,000 from labor unions and more than $300,000 from nursing homes, hospitals, and healthcare employees since 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

HealthBridge entered the nursing homes at the center of the strike into bankruptcy last week, citing the lucrative union contract that has driven up its costs. It is now asking a New Jersey bankruptcy court to modify the labor contracts during the bankruptcy process.

A ruling is expected shortly, according to sources familiar with the case.