Managers of Kensington nursing home have told relatives of 86 elderly residents there that they have until 3 this afternoon to remove the residents and their belongings from the premises, following the breakdown of contract talks between management and employees and increasing acts of vandalism inside the home.
Nursing home administrators declared there was evidence of vandalism -- including sveered telephone wires, broken lamps and a misplaced fire extinguisher -- that threatens the residents' safety.
"We don't want to be held responsible in case of fire or some other emergency," said Ellis Duke, owner and manager of the Circle Manor Nursing Home at 10231 Carroll Pl.
Managers made the decision to remove the residents following the latest breakdown of labor talks Saturday.
"I got a call last night at 11 saying my mother had to be out," said Thelma Beltcher, who arrived at the nursing home yesterday after traveling from her home in Abell, Md.
"She is 71 years old and heart problems. I have no way to take care of her until this mess ends."
The labor dispute centers on management's three-year-old contract with 25 housekeepers and nursing aides. The contract expired Aug. 2 and Duke and the local chapter of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees have been unable to reach agreement on a new contract since talks began in July.
Employes have twice threatened to strike, but called off the action both times. Duke has offered to increase the employes' salary from $3.20 per hour to $3.45. Employes want $3.55 per hour and added health benefits.
"It's like we're being made the villains or something," said housekeeper Joan Doye, the home's union delegate.
"It's like he's [Duke] pointing at us and saying we're destroying the home. There are no bedsores here. . . We do our jobs well. This is the thanks we get?"
Duke said the acts of vandalism began Wednesday when a telephone wire wire on the ground floor of the nursing home was found severed.
"We can't assure the safety of our people here if we can't communicate with each other from floor to floor," Duke said. "We are in an isolated portion of the county as it is."
Since then three lamps, valued at $150 each, have been found broken; soup bowls and silverware were discovered in a trash can; and a missing fire extinguisher was found in a garbage bin, according to Duke.
Duke, who claimed that the damage was related to the stalled negotiations, said he had not informed Montgomery County police of the incidents because "they couldn't do anything about it."
"Plus, police don't like to interfere in labor troubles," he said.
Several housekeepers and nursing aides expressed bitterness yesterday over Duke's decision to remove the residents.
"All we want is a decent wage to keep pace with the cost of living," said aide Brenda Allston.
Ronald Hollie, president of the union local, called Duke's decision "a clever ploy."
"Mr. Duke can afford to upset people," he said. "We can't."
Most of residents' relatives had been notified of management's decision by late yesterday. Only four residents had left, however.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County fire officials yesterday established an emergency telephone center at the nursing home.
"The residents can return once we are assured the vandalism has stopped," said Duke, who hired two security guards last week to patrol the premises.
Most of the residents has not been told they would have to leave. Despite hectic activity in the administrators' offices, business appeared usual at the home.Many residents watch television in the sun room of the secluded, century-old mansion, while others darned or read.
Their relatives, however were alarmed.
"My mother has been uprooted from nursing homes twice," said Richard Schmidt." "Now I have two days to find her another place to stay. . .We have no room at home for her, and waiting lists are miles long at other nursing homes."
"Money, money, money," added Frank Read. "It always disrupts something."