FAIRMONT – In tandem with a state probe, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked officials in Marion County and Fairmont to investigate whether the owner of Fairmont Regional Medical Center broke a federal law when it shut down on March 19.
Curtis M. Johnson, director of communications for Morrisey, said 13 former employees of the shuttered hospital have contacted the attorney general’s office asking him to investigate whether Alecto Healthcare Services Inc. failed to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 when it closed the facility on March 19. Citing losses of more than $19 million, on Feb. 18, FRMC CEO Robert Adcock gave the hospital’s 528 employees letters stating it would shut down in 60 days.
Under the WARN Act, along with warning its employees, employers who conduct a mass layoff are required to also notify “the chief elected official” in which the layoffs are to occur.
“I am deeply concerned with Alecto’s apparent disregard of its moral and statutory obligations and am committed to utilizing the resources of the Office of the Attorney General to pursue any available enforcement avenues,” Morrisey wrote in a letter that was sent to former FRMC employees. “As the State’s chief legal officer, I have been working closely with the West Virginia Division of Labor to investigate any violations of the Wage Payment and Collection Act related to the abrupt closure of FRMC.”
Johnson said Morrisey’s office will continue to investigate whether Alecto broke any wage and hour laws as well.
The letter also gives instructions to the former employees on how to go about filing an official claim for any due back wages based on West Virginia Code.
Morrisey said in the letter that Alecto could be subject to paying the local government a civil penalty “of not more than $500 for each day of such violation” for breaking terms set out in the WARN Act of 1988.
Johnson said he only knew of 13 letters having been mailed out to former hospital employees.
Morrisey’s letter comes on the same day a second union announced plans to sue Alecto for not adhering to the WARN Act.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 120 workers at the facility, said Monday that it intends to file suit against Irvine,Calif.-based Alecto “in the coming days.”
“We are in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which our country has never witnessed. We are opening field hospitals across the country to ensure we have enough beds for potentially hundreds of thousands of patients who will succumb to the COVID-19 virus,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU. “It is outrageous that Alecto would choose to close this facility now, with no warning, in the middle of this national crisis. One-hundred twenty critical care professionals who need to be on the front lines of this epidemic aren’t able to care for their now hospital-less community.”
On March 27, members of Service Employees International Union District 1199 announced plans to file a similar lawsuit on the grounds that Alecto broke the WARN Act of 1988 after administrators told employees the company will not pay the wages or extend their healthcare coverage.
“This is a slap in the face to the people and patients of West Virginia during the largest health crisis the state has ever seen,” said Joyce Gibson, regional director for SEIU 1199. “Hospital executives pleaded with our nurses and other healthcare providers to continue to provide quality care until the last day of operations, but then rewarded them by refusing to pay our members for their earned leave time like vacation, personal and sick leave.”
Passed by Congress in 1988, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act was designed to protect employees by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar days of advance notice of plant closings and mass layoffs.
“Our union will not stand for this, and we are swiftly filing suit against this company for failure to follow a just path to closure under the WARN Act. This community will need a hospital, and I am hopeful that with the support of local elected officials we can ensure this community keeps its healthcare facility through this pandemic,” Appelbaum said.