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Connecticut Nursing Home Workers Vote to Strike

The nursing home industry in many areas has been challenged by complaints of abuse and neglect by aides, state and federal surveys and investigations with the possibility of sanctions that go so far as denying licensure, as well as the uncertainty as to sources of funding to pay for care at these facilities. These issues and accompanying discussions are often framed in terms of the lasting and consequential effects on facility residents, and the disciplinary actions taken against a nursing home and/or specific nurses or aides. In Connecticut, however, there is news of specific action that nursing home workers are taking to protect themselves from their employers and a threatening state budget proposal.

In the state of Connecticut, in earlier April, a significant 3,500 employees from 27 different nursing homes agreed to go on a workers’ strike starting the last week of the month. Local reporting details the primary motive as protesting the state government for its budget that may threaten reimbursements to nursing homes through federal insurance programs like Medicaid, which is typically a tremendous source of income for nursing homes. Connecticut’s governor has proposed a budget that would eliminate a previously planned cost-of-living increase that is factored into reimbursements to medical providers for care given to Medicaid insurance recipients. As indicated in an article, approximately 70% of nursing home residents in Connecticut are covered by Medicaid insurance, and cuts to that would obviously take away from money going to the facilities, which in turn are used to in part pay employees’ salaries.

The governor has separately proposed to exempt nursing homes from other rounds of general Medicaid cuts, which would have further reduced nursing home incomes and thus money available to pay employees. But as with any budget proposal, there will undoubtedly be back-and-forth negotiations between the governor’s office and the state legislature, and it is unclear if the final budget will include the proposed exemption. Thus the cost-of-living cuts would be bad, but a failure to gain an exemption from broader Medicaid cuts would likely be harmful to nursing home employees, since nursing homes will presumably cut pay or cut jobs to account for the reduced income.

The worker strike is also a message to their actual employers, the nursing homes, to push the state government to skip the cuts or at least mitigate them, likely through the governor’s proposed exemption. The added message is also that they want their wages to increase to at least $15 per hour. In the interim, nursing homes will likely hire replacement employees to take the positions vacated by the striking workers, so it is unclear if the strike will work. Nevertheless, the message is very clear that decreased funding will hurt these workers who many reportedly earn less than $15 per hour.

One important note is that the messy and disorderly transition to hastily bring in new workers could have an adverse impact on nursing home residents who need round-the-clock care. Thus we will see if the state blinks first in order to keep the primary nursing home workers, many of whom are experienced, on the job, or if they will take their chances with a replacement force, which itself could be expensive to hire, train, and put on the job. For the sake of the residents, hopefully this can be resolved soon.

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