Employees, families demand accountability after north St. Louis nursing home closes
Some residents of a nursing home in north St. Louis that abruptly closed Friday have still not been in touch with their loved ones, advocates for residents and their families said Tuesday.
Workers at the Northview Village nursing home moved its approximately 170 residents to other facilities overnight Friday, according to union officials. On Friday afternoon, administrators informed workers at the facility they would not be receiving their scheduled paychecks. They have still not been paid, the employees said.
According to members of the Service Employees International Union who worked at the nursing home, residents were out of the building on north Kingshighway by Saturday afternoon.
During a rally outside the building on Tuesday, St. Louis Mayor Tishuara Jones, local officials and employees who had lost their jobs criticized the facility’s owners and management for failing to provide notice to workers and shutting down the nursing home one week before Christmas.
“Shame on this owner for treating the people in this facility like pawns who can just be moved at a moment's notice,” Jones said. “Shame on this owner for not paying the employees what they deserve and just shutting down this facility in the dead of night.”
According to Medicare records, Mark and Lorraine Suissa own 26% ownership stakes in the business, respectively, along with others who own smaller percentages. Records from the Missouri Secretary of State’s office list the same Chicago address for both Suissas.
Jones called for the owners of the facility to be held accountable and said the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment will hold emergency job fairs to assist the displaced workers.
Shortly before 3 p.m. Friday, administrators informed employees that the owners did not have funding to make payroll, said Carolyn Hawthorne, a registered nurse who worked at Northview Village for more than a decade.
Workers from other nursing homes and the fire department loaded residents into vehicles, and many belongings were left behind, she said.
“This is our community,” said Hawthorne, whose aunt lived at the nursing home. “A lot of us could go anywhere from north county to west county, but we chose to come to the city to take care of the people. Now, take care of us.”
The move was so abrupt that many family members did not have time to arrange for accommodations for their loved ones, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis-area group that advocates for people in nursing homes. Some are still attempting to track down where former Northview residents ended up, she said.
“We had one wife who's been in tears because — today is day five — she hasn’t found her husband,” Moore said. “You put somebody in this 24-hour nursing setting. They’re supposed to be taken care of, we’re supposed to know where they are. Because of the way everything happened, because it happened so fast, people went missing in the process.”
The building appeared abandoned on Tuesday morning. Through ground-floor windows, passers-by could see toiletries, papers and Christmas decorations strewn across the premises.
“This is absolutely not normal,” Moore said. “Usually when a facility closes, you have to provide a 60-day notice to the state and federal government and [have] a calm and orderly shutdown. … I’ve bever seen something happen where all the residents have to be out in 12 hours.”
SEIU members and former workers criticized the facility’s owners.
“We all come here and earn our money, we work diligently hard to take care of these residents,” said Heidi Haywood, another Northview Village worker who lost her job. “I am so appalled by how the whole event took place, with moving these human beings, these lives, out of this facility. I’m so appalled by the inhumanity that that man showed these human beings.”
Haywood, who has six children, said during the rally she’s now worried about being able to provide for her family.
“Some could be homeless tomorrow. Some could be without gas lights, food to feed our children, diapers, you name it,” she said. “It’s not like we’re begging for something we didn’t earn.”
State Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said she had talked to the state’s director of long-term care and wants the Missouri officials to keep similar closures from happening.
“This is a tragedy," she said. “This should not happen in the state of Missouri or in this city. We cannot put corporate greed over people.”
Ward 12 Alderwoman Sharon Tyus said Tuesday she was organizing a fund to assist the workers who lost their jobs.
SEIU Missouri State Director Lenny Jones said payroll and other day-to-day business was carried out locally through Brentwood-based Healthcare Accounting Services. Around 100 people out of the approximately 180-person staff are members of the union, he said.
A person who answered the phone at Brentwood company’s headquarters said the matter was “in the hands of our lawyers” and did not offer further comment.
The Suissas also could not be reached for comment. CMS documents show Mark Suissa is one of the owners of Grand Manor, a nursing home in the Grand Center neighborhood, as well as Elmwood Nursing and Rehab in Maryville, Illinois.
Documents also show that Lorraine and Mark Suissa together have ownership stakes in facilities in Edwardsville and Fenton.