Union calls for state intervention in planned closure of Providence nursing home

Residents and staff at Charlesgate left in limbo by owner’s decision

By: - May 4, 2023 7:42 pm

MaryAnn Dabneh speaks Thursday outside Charlesgate Nursing Center while Jesse Martin, right, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union 1199 New England, looks on. Plans to close the 120-bed facility in the summer leave more than 90 Charlesgate workers out of a job. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE — The union representing 90 workers at a 120-bed nursing home on North Main Street called for state intervention as the facility moves to close over the summer during a press conference Thursday.

About a dozen members of Service Employees International Union 1199 New England (SEIU 1199NE) gathered in front of Charlesgate Nursing Center to express concerns for workers and residents after its owner, Davenport Associates Development, LLC, recently announced the facility’s closing after 50 years in operation.

“We are deeply troubled,” Jesse Martin, executive vice president of SEIU 1199NE, said. “Charlesgate offers the social safety net of Providence. Charlesgate provides services to extremely vulnerable populations. 

“We’re asking the governor’s administration, Attorney General’s Office, and the Department of Health to be mindful of the potential impact.”

Davenport Associates President Neil Shunney said the decision to close was a difficult one made necessary by a staffing shortage.

“We recognize the challenges that this decision may cause, but there was no other option due to current industry conditions,” Shunney said in the release. 

“This difficult and unfortunate decision was made necessary due to unprecedented staffing shortages, in particular among nurses, that are impacting healthcare facilities throughout the region and nation.

“The shortages, combined with insufficient state reimbursements to care for residents, have created an insurmountable challenge to the sustainability of the Nursing Center. We also recognize the impact of this decision on residents and their families and will work with them to secure housing in another nursing facility.”

The facility’s assisted living and independent living facilities will remain open.

Shunney did not say how many residents currently live at Charlesgate when asked.

Concerns for patients and wages

SEIU 1199NE spokeswoman Amelia Abromatis said the facility serves a mostly indigent population covered by Medicaid with mental health and substance abuse issues. Many patients at Charlesgate suffer from severe illnesses like HIV\AIDS and hepatitis. Charlesgate also offers low-income housing.

“We care for some of the most vulnerable residents of Rhode Island,” Carolyn Clark, a certified nursing assistant at Charlesgate said. “To the people who stay here, we are their relatives. We are their friends.”

Shunney said Charlesgate was in communication with other nursing homes across the state to arrange alternate residences for patients.

Staff at the rally — mostly immigrant women of color — said they are underpaid and worry about restarting their careers after decades at Charlesgate.

“This situation we are faced with is very scary,” MaryAnn Darbeh, a medication aide and certified nursing assistant at Charlesgate for the last 29 years, said. “How are we going to pay our rent?

“I was planning to retire in two to three years. Now I have to start from scratch. What’s more, after all these years we are leaving with no severance pay which is a slap to the face.”

“We all feel like we are being dumped for special gain,” Oprah Paige, a certified nursing assistant at Charlesgate since 2008, said. “There are lots of questions we can’t answer.

“We are feeling saddened that they are unexpectedly closing down on us.”

Certified nursing assistants at the facility earn between $17 and $20 an hour, Martin said.

Questions on motive

Martin said there are fears the nursing home’s for-profit owners are seeking to hire non-union staff. 

 “Over 90 members could lose their jobs represented by our union,” he said. 

The Rhode Island Department of Health, which regulates nursing homes, oversees 80 licensed nursing homes in the state with a total 8,704 beds. Department Spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth said the Department of Health “does not broker ownership changes.” The Office of the Attorney General did not respond to requests for comment.

When asked if the union was looking into legal or strike action, Martin said SEIU 1199NE will continue to monitor the situation and react as needed. 

“This is the first step in what we consider our campaign to save Charlesgate.”


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Kevin G. Andrade
Kevin G. Andrade

Kevin G. Andrade previously covered education, housing and human services for Rhode Island Current.