Convalescent Home Suffering from Budget Stalemate

September 3, 2008 7:51:07 PM PDT
The state's problems are quickly becoming the Central Valley's problems as well. A Fresno County convalescent home hasn't paid its employees in a month because it's not getting money from the state.Now, more than 50 caregivers at Sunnyside Convalescent Home are planning to go on strike for a day on Sept. 15. Right now, it's been a month since they got paid, and their boss blames the state budget stalemate.

A stack of paychecks lies flat on a desk, but they'd bounce at the bank.

They've been sitting in the safe at Sunnyside for two weeks, waiting for the state budget to get settled and Medi-Cal money to trickle down to the valley. Meanwhile, the nursing staff is working without pay, their families are suffering, and they're ready to go on strike.

"We need our checks so we can pay our bills and feed our children," said staff nurse Ann Frank. "I have three children and I don't even know where we're going to stay the next day."

"What's worrying me right now is my home because I don't know if it's going to go into foreclosure or what," said staff nurse Benette Tyson.

Tyson's mother is also one of 85 patients who live there. All of them are on Medi-Cal, so the home is entirely funded by the state. But with the budget held up, the place hasn't gotten any money since mid-July.

Administrator and co-owner Michael Fellen says his paycheck also hasn't been cashed, and he's doing everything he can to pay his staff.

"I've used my personal funds," he said. "I put my house up."

Like the eight I-5 social services daycare centers that closed Tuesday because state funding dried up, Fellen says he might have to shut down Sunnyside, leaving the convalescent patients to fend for themselves.

"When it's getting down to the level where it's affecting disabled people and those on Medi-Cal, and staffing like I have, something's got to be done. It's crazy," he said.

State law requires a nursing home facility to keep enough money on hand or enough credit to cover expenses for 45 days. Fellen didn't meet it, since it was only 21 days between his last payment from the state and the first time he didn't pay employees. That could lead to a fine from the state if he stays in business.

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