Friday, September 29, 2023

Crest Haven Employees Rally Against Privatization, Push for Talks

Christopher South
AFSCME Local 3596 Executive Vice President Amie Fairman reads a statement as fellow union member Jeff Trout holds an enlarged photo of 28 Crest Haven employees who are being threatened with discipline after posing for the photo.

By Christopher South

CREST HAVEN – The Board of County Commissioners, Sept. 12, again heard from unionized county workers at the Crest Haven Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, who called for a meeting with county officials to discuss alternatives to privatizing the facility.

Union workers spoke at the Aug. 22 commissioners meeting as well.

Will Morey was the lone commissioner out of five who addressed the request for discussions, which was made by Steve Tully, executive director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3596.

County Counsel Jeff Lindsay had advised the commissioners not to engage in dialogue with the union or its members, saying he didn’t want anything in a discussion to be interpreted as a “negotiable item” the county would be obligated to address with the union. Lindsay also said there is a pending request for proposal (RFP) from private vendors to begin operating the facility and the county had to be careful about disclosing information outside the parameters of the RFP.

Commissioner Will Morey listens to union members speaking against the privatization of the Crest Haven Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.

Morey asked Lindsay whether there were discussions with the union and workers regarding alternatives. Lindsay said that there had not been a response from AFSCME regarding discussions, but Tully said he wanted to be clear that he wished to discuss alternatives to privatizing Crest Haven – not a discussion of a transition to privatization.

Tully also said he wanted to make it clear that AFSCME, which represents 637 county employees, adamantly opposes privatizing the nursing home. He asked the county to put the privatization issue on hold and wait 12 months while the county and AFSCME worked on keeping Crest Haven open.

Tully additionally raised a matter that came up after the Aug. 22 commissioners meeting. Twenty-eight Crest Haven employees posed for a photograph in front of the nursing home, Aug. 18. The executive director provided the Herald with a copy of a letter addressed to a county employee who was in the photograph.

The letter, titled “Notice of Fact Finding,” was dated Sept. 6 and sent by Sara Maloney, the county’s director of Human Resources and Training. The letter said the employee is required to attend a fact-finding meeting in regard to a charge of “conduct unbecoming of a public employee.” The employee was advised that a union representative could be present at the meeting, scheduled for a later date.

Local 3596 Executive Vice President Amie Fairman, who said she asked for the photo, said all of the employees in it were on break or at lunch. She said the employees are smiling and making the county leadership look good. She also said it was these and other Crest Haven employees who were the reason there were no deficiencies noted on a July 31 health and infection inspection report.

Tully said that the 28 were just a few members of an entire staff that worked through the Covid pandemic as “essential employees.” He said these employees went through enough in working through the pandemic, and that now the county wants to take away their pay, their benefits and their future.

Crest Haven Food Service Manager Steve White speaks in opposition to the privatization of the Crest Haven Nursing Home, showing what food is like in some private facilities. Left to right are AFSCME Vice President Amie Fairman, Charlotte Van Eps (White’s daughter), AFSCME NJ Executive Director Steve Tully and White.

Steve White, Crest Haven’s food service manager, echoed concerns about the loss of benefits, as did other employees. White said he and other employees are taking the hit for the nursing home’s operating with a multimillion-dollar deficit when the blame should be placed on the county administration.

“Mr. Lare should be fired, not me,” White said, referring to County Administrator Kevin Lare.

The county issued a statement shortly after the Aug. 22 commissioners meeting saying it has spent the past two years trying to stabilize the management and staffing of the nursing home. The county said Crest Haven operated from 2018 to 2021 with a $26 million deficit. Members of the public called that mismanagement.

The county’s position since its efforts to privatize the nursing home were made public has been that the industry has moved toward a home health care model, and that half a dozen other counties have made the decision to privatize.

Lindsay said in a previous interview that the county has been looking at privatization since 2017, and that the nursing home was losing “a couple million dollars” per year. He said there were now more options for affordable long-term care for elderly citizens, and that while the bottom line was important, there were multiple factors that led the county toward privatization.

Other speakers from the public, including Dr. Robert Salasin and a registered nurse from Crest Haven, said the level of care would not be the same at private facilities. Salasin said that a lot of his clients were in nursing home care, and he would always steer them toward Crest Haven.

The nurse said she resigned from another long-term care facility to work at Crest Haven. She warned there would be a decrease in the level of care if the facility is privatized.

White earlier showed enlarged photographs of food served at a private nursing care facility. One of the dishes showed a meatball “sandwich,” which was some meatballs and sauce on a single slice of white bread. Another dish was unidentifiable.

He said private facilities attempt to feed residents at a cost of $1 or $2 per meal. Addressing Morey, he said, “You charge $13 for a bucket of fries,” referring to Morey’s family business on the Wildwood Boardwalk.

AFSCME NJ Executive Director Steve Tully, left, speaks with County Commissioner Will Morey after the Sept. 12 commissioners meeting was adjourned. The men were talking about having talks about options to privatize the Crest Haven Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.

The county has said there are 126 employees at Crest Haven, and some of them would be able to “bump” employees out of their jobs in another department. Lindsay said the county was looking for a private firm that would take on as many of the county employees as possible and provide a benefits and retirement plan.

Tully and Morey spoke after the meeting, and Tully said the commissioner essentially restated what he has said publicly – that the two sides should at least have a dialogue and exchange ideas.

“I’m hopeful that will take place,” he said.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.


Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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