“We wish Mr. Corino and Ms. Helker the best of luck in the future.” – Jeffrey Jacomowitz, director of corporate communications at Centers Health Care
The pandemic has crippled the economy and working eligible labor forces across the nation, especially in New York, which has accrued a 12.9-percent unemployment rate statewide according to the state’s Department of Labor latest report from August.
Bill Corino is just one of thousands of New Yorkers who are unemployed.
Corino had “voluntarily retired” from the Ontario Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Canandaigua this last April.
Despite what the largest nursing home owner in New York has claimed, Corino firmly believes that he did not decide to leave the company on his own terms.
Ontario Center employee had to develop his own COVID safety protocols as pandemic ripped through facility
For nearly five weeks straight he carried-out and surpassed his occupational duties as a part-time driver and maintenance employee while combatting COVID-19 until his cardiologist stepped in, begging for him to stop working at the facility due to his medical record full of preexisting health conditions.
On April 13, Corino gave his final notice, stating that a doctor’s note has barred him from returning to work for the foreseeable future and Administrator Rebecca Butler immediately granted his “request.”
Centers Health Care eventually mailed him a termination letter on June 8, which was originally delivered to a prior address that he hadn’t lived at in nearly two-years.
He didn’t receive a single cent of severance whatsoever.
Almost six-months have passed since his unexpected departure, and the Clifton Springs resident remains unemployed.
Corino is about to celebrate turning 53-years-old this upcoming week, but he’s just about to withdraw his final week of unemployment benefits.
After that time elapses, Corino is honestly not sure what he’ll do next.
“I have no idea. There’s nothing that I can do about it right now,” Corino exclusively told FingerLakes1.com.
Months earlier, his girlfriend mentioned that disgruntled employees are able to file complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
He then actually created an official complaint about being illegitimately let go by Ontario Center, claiming that he had been discriminated against in the workplace because of his inability to work because of the pandemic due to his preexisting health conditions.
The state’s division has been accepting complaints regarding COVID-19 based claims for cases of workplace discrimination and Corino believes that his incident should be covered as well.
“I really do feel that it falls underneath that category,” Corino insisted.
The consequences for COVID-19 employment discrimination can be steep and costly in the case of Centers Health Care.
“If your employer terminates you or sends you home based on what is later found to be a discriminatory policy, your employer could be responsible for your missed wages,” the NYS Division of Human Rights website reads.
Corino, a 30-year maintenance and landscaping expert alleges that Ontario Center replaced his position with a new-hire shortly after his departure, just one month later sometime in May.
Prior to that, he noticed that his actual job had been listed online through the company’s website immediately upon his release.
However, Jeffrey Jacomowitz, the director of corporate communications at Centers Health Care wrote in a statement on behalf of the company back in early June that Corino’s “employment came to an end due to having no further work responsibilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
An eerily similar situation also occurred to Connie Helker, a former front desk receptionist and housekeeper at Ontario Center.
Helker, a two-time cancer survivor also received a voluntary resignation letter on April 29 and had been unemployed since then too.
DAILY DEBRIEF: Housekeeper who walked away from Ontario Center speaks out (podcast)
Like Corino, she had to deal with her own set of preexisting health issues.
Rather than risking another encounter with COVID-19, she sought to sit back at home, wade out the pandemic until the situation subsided and eventually return back to Ontario Center.
But that did not happen.
Instead, Jacomowitz justified her termination in that same June statement, citing Helker “took it upon herself to be a permanent no-show” despite her contracting COVID-19 inside their facility and being seriously at-risk for exposure once more.
“Ms. Helker was made aware of the 14-day quarantine period after being tested positive for COVID-19 but failed to return to work upon the competition of the 14 days, thus leading to her termination,” Jacomowitz expressed.
Unlike Corino, however, Helker has been filling in as a substitute for the nonprofit Ontario ARC, working a few hours each week if she’s lucky.
After she recovered from contracting COVID-19 while inside Ontario Center, Helker had to undergo a hand surgery.
Since leaving Ontario Center, she had six leg surgery procedures, three on each leg, and her oncologist recently recommended for her to stop working because she’s immunocompromised and highly susceptible to catching COVID-19 once again.
Her oncologist informed Helker that she’ll need six-months before fully healing from the virus, but she even thinks that it’ll take longer than that since she had undergone several surgeries within a short stint of time.
“Money is a big issue along with the healing and recovery process. Unemployment doesn’t pay a whole lot and there are a lot of jobs out there that you can do that’s minimum wage that don’t pay a whole lot either. I know, I’m working at one of them,” Helker exclusively told FingerLakes1.com.
Unfortunately for Helker, she cannot simply stop working. She needs the money and doesn’t shy away from admitting that.
“I’ve always been a worker, so it came naturally for me to go back to work but at the same time I guess I didn’t give my body enough time to heal or recover even from COVID-19,” she added.
Even Helker is nearing the end of collecting her unemployment with only roughly four or five weeks left before she has exhausted her benefits.
Sometimes she had been forced to visit the local food banks during the pandemic just to get some groceries.
When FingerLakes1.com informed Helker that Corino officially filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights months ago, she admittedly mentioned that she’d be willing to file one as well.
“That place [Ontario Center] doesn’t care about their employees or residents It’s all about the money with them; that’s the bottom line, and now for those of us that did get COVID and still trying to recover fully, the money situation is not helping either,” she emphasized.
Like Corino, she had not been aware that former employees can file complaints that are actually investigated.
The investigation process is fairly simple and straightforward, but equally time intensive.
First, the respondents are notified and then the Division of Human Rights seeks to review and resolve any questionable issues of jurisdiction.
Depending on the specifics behind the case, the complaint may be forwarded to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or federal U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development.
The investigation itself contains research methods including “written inquiry, field investigation and investigatory conference.”
Once the investigation is completed, the Division will determine if there is probable cause that an act of discrimination has occurred, and will notify the complainant and respondent in writing.
If there is a finding of no probable cause, or lack of jurisdiction, the matter is dismissed, and a complainant may appeal to the State Supreme Court within 60 days.
Most investigations take 180-days to occur from start-to-finish, but that’s simply not fast enough for Corino and Helker with their unemployment benefits are just about to run-out.
Although the future is scarily uncertain, Corino remains humble and still realizes that he’s not alone.
In his mind, many of his fellow New Yorkers and Americans across the nation are financially struggling too.
“I’m not unique in my plight. There are millions of Americans who are in a similar situation,” he explained.
Despite still being unemployed amid a global pandemic, Corino emphasized that he wouldn’t have changed anything ever since departing from the nursing home and sharing his story from his time inside Ontario Center exclusively with FingerLakes1.com, which started the joint investigative series about Ontario Center and Elm Manor.
“I would do the same thing all over again. No one was there for them. If nothing else, people are going to think twice about putting their loved ones into a facility [Ontario Center] like that,” he ended.
Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Jacomowitz, the director of corporate communications has declined to comment on behalf of Centers Health Care about Corino’s complaint that is being currently investigated by the NYS Division of Human Rights.
August 2019 to 2020 Unemployment Rates by County:
Cayuga County: 4.2%  — 9.1% 
Ontario County: 3.6%  — 8.3% 
Schuyler County: 3.9%  — 8.1% 
Seneca County: 3.5%  — 8.9% 
Steuben County: 4.2%  — 9.0% 
Tompkins County: 4.0%  — 7.2% 
Wayne County: 3.9%  — 8.6% 
Yates County: 3.3%  — 6.9%