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Rochester nursing home lays off every employee after sprinkler failure

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Brett Dahlberg
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WXXI News
The Wesley Gardens nursing home off Goodman Street plans to lay off all its workers by Friday.

All 100-plus workers at a Rochester nursing home are being laid off this week. 

The Wesley Gardens nursing home just off Goodman Street notified the state labor department that it plans to lay off 132 workers by Friday, though in a later email to WXXI, the home’s president and CEO, Robert W. Jones III, put the number at “approximately 180.”

Companies are normally required to give the state 90 days notice before layoffs of this size, but labor department communications director Deanna Cohen said in this case, “it appears the business qualifies for the unforeseeable business circumstances exception.”

The layoffs come after the home was evacuated last month when a burst pipe in the fire sprinkler system flooded floors from the top story to the basement.

The state health department then helped the home’s staff relocate residents to other local skilled nursing facilities.

Wesley Gardens had been cited by state inspectors for problems with its fire sprinkler system in 2017, 2018, and earlier in 2019.

Nursing home administrators have not responded to questions from WXXI about whether those citations were connected to the recent leak. But the parallels led Demond Meeks, an organizer with the 1199 Service Employees International Union that represents the home’s workers, to characterize the layoffs as less “unforeseen” than “unfair.”

“It’s really unfair, you know, that the residents and the employees have been hurt as the result of a broken system,” Meeks said.

He said the rates the state pays to nursing homes to support their operations are too low, so homes like Wesley Gardens are chronically underfunded. Those rates have fallen each year since 2017.

Meeks is also concerned that the rates will be reduced further with Medicaid funds on the chopping block as New York faces a multi-billion-dollar budget gap.

Wesley Gardens said it expects to start moving residents back into the home by late March. Meeks said he expects the company to rehire laid-off workers around that time, too.

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