Butler County nursing home makes new deal with union while battling coronavirus concerns

New Butler County Care Facility Administrator Chamika Poole interacts with residents at the home.
New Butler County Care Facility Administrator Chamika Poole interacts with residents at the home.

After nearly 18 months, union workers at the Butler County Care Facility have a new contract that will cost taxpayers about $55,000.

The Butler County commissioners ratified a one-year, tentative agreement with the union on Monday. The deal increases the minimum hourly rate for most job classifications by $1, and employees who receive less than a 4.5 percent increase will also receive a 2.75 percent base wage hike. Employees who had been on the payroll since January 2019 also got a $500 lump sum payment.

“Negotiations resulted in an increase in the starting pay rates in almost every job classification, which will help to attract and retain staff,” Human Resources Director Laurie Murphy said. “Overall, we attempted to negotiate a one-year agreement that financially demonstrates our appreciation of the staff, while remaining fiscally responsible.”

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The county-run nursing home has been in turmoil for some time and several pitfalls slowed union negotiations. Murphy said the former union chief died shortly before the old contract expired in October 2018. Former County Administrator Charlie Young left in December 2018 and Murphy said the commissioners wanted the negotiations paused until County Administrator Judi Boyko took the helm last March. Then former administrator Jennifer Strickland resigned and a consulting firm ran operations before Administrator Chamika Poole was hired in September.

Murphy said there has been a lot of other staff turnover which exacerbated things and negotiations also stalled because of scheduling difficulties with a federal mediator.

Poole said she asked for one-year deal, rather than the usual three.

“So I’d have the opportunity to meet their needs, to keep them happy and then we’d have the year to kind of grow together and see what our needs require,” Poole said. “And so I didn’t have to be stuck into something for the next couple years that I didn’t have the opportunity to put my thoughts and input into.”

The union president could not be reached for comment.

The commissioners have been pushing for pay-for-performance with all unions over the past several years. Under the previous deal nursing assistants, dietary, housekeeping and maintenance workers agreed to a 2 percent, across-the-board increase for each of three years and a half-percent performance component. Murphy said they will revisit merit pay.

Keeping employees happy and on the jobs during the coronavirus pandemic is crucial. Poole said she is still down about 18 employees and even now, with so many people suddenly unemployed, she hasn’t had many applicants.

“I think it could be fear,” Poole said. “They don’t want to put themselves in any more increased risk of catching COVID and bringing it home o their families and loved ones.”

Poole said they have 75 residents at the facility and none of them have been tested for the virus and none have symptoms.

The facility is following all proper nursing home protocols, the doors are locked to visitors and she said they have also prohibited friends and family from bringing packages to their loved ones because there is the thought smooth surfaces could carry the coronavirus. Social distancing is also enforced.

“We’ve marked the floors to show them the six feet distancing in the dining room,” she said. “We’ve encouraged them to stay in their rooms but if they do go out to the dining room, to keep some form of normalcy they know this is how far I need to be away from the next person.”

Commissioner Don Dixon, who is in the nursing home business, said dealing with the pandemic has been rough at his family’s three senior living facilities.

“It really has changed the way nursing homes and long-term care operates, we have almost a completely new set of protocols, no visitors can come into the building unless it’s an end of life sort of circumstance,” Dixon said. “The dining rooms are all closed so people can’t eat together, they don’t congregate together for activities like they normally would… I think it’s harder on the residents than anybody else because they’re not used to that a lot of them don’t really understand where all the visitors have gone.”