Waterfront Health Site Will Stay Open

August 11, 2011 Updated Aug 11, 2011 at 8:04 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First - by Tracey Drury

August 11, 2011 Updated Aug 11, 2011 at 8:04 AM EDT

Union healthcare workers at Waterfront Healthcare Center on Buffalo's West Side have reached an agreement with a new operator that will keep the site open and operational.

Effective Aug. 15, the facility will shift from Kaleida Health to Specialty Care Group, a New York City-based provider of long-term care services. The state Department of Health approved Specialty Care Group as receiver and operator for the 120-bed facility, which was targeted for closure by Kaleida in late 2009.

Kaleida cited significant operating losses in identifying the facility for closure, losing an average of $1.3 million annually in the past three years. In May, the state Department of Health rejected Kaleida's closure plan for the due to concerns regarding various issues, including access to services in the city.

Kaleida had been working to find a new operator or owner for the facility, the only Spanish-language facility in the region. After Specialty Care Group emerged as the front-runner this spring, union workers represented by SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East rejected the take-over offer, which included wage and benefit cuts.

SEIU 1199 represents 170 employees at the site, including licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, activity aides, dietary, housekeeping and maintenance workers.

Several proposals and counter proposals followed in the past few months, with the two sides agreeing to pursue a binding arbitration process to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. The arbitration was held in late July, with a decision expected by later this week. Union officials said the staff are willing to make sacrifices to keep the site open.

"Our members have fought hard to keep this facility open, even though they knew that to do so would likely mean accepting wage and benefit cuts," said Todd Hobler, vice president. "It has been a long difficult struggle. We await the arbitration decision, but we are finally hopeful for the future of Waterfront."

Specialty Care Group is a privately owned nursing home operator with 14 sites in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Rome, Chittenango, Suffolk and Dutchess counties. Waterfront will be its first entrance into the Buffalo market.

Mike Hughes, vice president for marketing, public relations and government relations, said Kaleida worked for 20 months to find a solution for Waterfront. "The receivership agreement will allow for immediate transition of the operation, which is best for our employees and the residents in their care," he said. He said community leaders were vital to the process, and gave credit to Casimiro Rodriguez Sr., chairman of the Coalition to Save Waterfront Health Care Center, whose uncle is a resident at Waterfront.

"There has been no better champion for Waterfront than Cas Rodriguez," he said.

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