As change of ownership looms, job fairs scheduled by purchaser of county health center

September 21, 2017
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Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter
Washington County Heath Center employees Mary Cheek, left, and Mary Clendenning hug in sorrow after their co-worker and union president Leann Howell spoke Thursday during the Washington County Commissioners meeting. Order a Print
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Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter
Mary Cheek, a certified nursing assistant at Washington County Health Center wipes away a tear Thursday as she listens to co-worker and Union President Leann Howell speak on their behalf at the Washington County Commissioners meeting. Order a Print
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Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter
LeeAnn Howell, an licensed practical nurse at Washington County Health Center, spoke Thursday at the Washington County Commissioners meeting on behalf of those currently employed by the county at the health center. Order a Print

With just nine days left before the Oct. 1 target date to place Washington County Health Center in corporate hands, three employees arrived at a meeting of the county commissioners to vent their fears and frustration about the uncertainty surrounding jobs at the facility.

Macaque in the trees
Mary Cheek, a certified nursing assistant at Washington County Health Center wipes away a tear Thursday as she listens to co-worker and Union President Leann Howell speak on their behalf at the Washington County Commissioners meeting.
Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter

A licensed practical nurse and nurses’ aide said they don’t know if Premier Healthcare Management LLC will hire them. A food service worker said she learned this week her job may be outsourced to another corporate entity.

Purple-shirted members of Service Employees International Union Healthcare PA have attended commissioners’ meetings en masse once news spread the commissioners were considering selling the health center.

Asked why only three turned up Thursday morning at the commissioners’ meeting, Mary Cheek, a nurse’s aide at the health center since 2013, replied, “They feel it’s a lost cause.”

None of the three said they’d been offered employment at the 288-bed facility in Arden, Chartiers Township, where their co-workers are in the same boat.

Leeann Howell of Washington, an LPN at the health center for almost 12 years and the only person participating in public comment at the meeting, reminded the commissioners they said in June Premier would offer all of the health center’s current staff first consideration in employment. Howell said she just learned Premier planned to give those who have nursing-related jobs proposals for salaries and benefits Wednesday through Friday of next week.

Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration, called the three-day period a “job fair” and added information that other service employees at the health center would have similar opportunities Wednesday and Thursday next week.

“That gives our employees very little time to make a life-changing decision,” Howell said.

Fergus also said he learned members of SEIU Healthcare PA could also start “bumping” less senior workers in classifications with similar skills Monday, which would have a domino effect on Washington County rank-and-file SEIU members’ workers outside the health center. There are about 260 members of SEIU Healthcare PA at the health center, and an equal number of workers at the county central complex who are members of SEIU Local 668. Those who work for elected officials and court-appointed and court-related employees are exempt from bumping.

Cheek said she signed a waiver of her bumping rights.

Macaque in the trees
LeeAnn Howell, an licensed practical nurse at Washington County Health Center, spoke Thursday at the Washington County Commissioners meeting on behalf of those currently employed by the county at the health center.
Holly Tonini/Observer-Reporter

After the commissioners concluded their public meeting – at which Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan offered tissues to a weeping Mary Cheek – she and her co-workers met privately with Commission Chairman Larry Maggi. All three women were teary-eyed when they emerged.

“There’s an anxiety level when you change to a new employer,” Maggi said after the meeting.

But, Maggi said, the potential of outsourcing of health center jobs did not come up in his discussions with Premier.

Asked if news of outsourcing surprised him, “A little bit, yeah, but we have to wait and see what happens.”

Employees of the dietary, housekeeping and laundry departments who attended an SEIU meeting Monday at the health center were told there was a possibility Premier could outsource none, some or all of those departments, which currently employee 55 people.

“I wish they had done a better job at quelling the rumors and contacting the people,” Maggi said of Premier, with whom the county has signed paperwork and which has made a down payment on the $26.9 million purchase price. County officials were not aware of the status of a change in ownership of the health center, which Premier has requested from the state, but they believe it’s on track to be approved in time for an early October changeover.

After losing $9 million at the health center since 2012, the commissioners decided Washington County should follow the lead of a majority of their counterparts and get out of the nursing home business.

In some form, whether it be a poor farm or homes for aged men and aged women, Washington County has operated facilities in Arden to care for the indigent since 1830. The sale of the 40-year-old Washington County Health Center includes 19.6 acres at 36 Hickory Ridge Road.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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