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Workers Take Action over Budgets and Staffing Levels

Update on Planned Nursing Home Strike

In fairly recent news, and as we had discussed previously in this blog space, about 3,500 nursing home staffers in Connecticut voted to go on strike to protest their wages, which in some places were not too far above the state’s minimum wage level. The workers set to go on strike hoped to push the state to re-think its budgeting when it comes to Medicaid funding. A proposed budget would have kept the level of Medicaid dollars going to nursing home as flat, rather than increasing the funding as tied to increasing costs.

Nursing homes could potentially be exempt from other Medicaid cuts under the governor’s proposal, but the lack of funding increase would still have an impact. Medicaid comprises a substantial revenue stream for nursing homes and thus salaries and wages for nursing home employees, would reduce money available to pay those workers and could possibly force some to accept stagnant wages, reduced hours, or even lose their jobs. The strike was set to go into effect on April 24th, though the workers through their union agreed to delay the work stoppage upon a request from the governor while he and legislators continue to work out a resolution on the budget. A strike would otherwise reportedly affect 27 nursing homes across the state, spanning 20 different neighborhoods, leaving those facilities with even fewer staffers to tend to residents, and having to look into temporary replacements.

Strike in New York

Now, downstate New York is experiencing nursing home worker activism. In New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties, 18,000 nursing home workers picketed in the streets to protest the lack of a contract since the prior contract expired at the end of last September. As was reported, a key concern of the picketing workers is the staffing levels at nursing homes where they work – specifically, the use of temporary workers to assist full-time workers at facilities that lack enough full-time workers. Such an issue is nothing new in the nursing home industry across the country.

Reducing full-time staff can be a way to reduce costs since there are fewer salaries and wages to pay, and the ownership can keep more revenue and thus reap greater profits. However, this can come at a grave cost where residents do not get the adequate attention and care that they need because there are not enough full-time staffers. And worse, using cheaper temporary staffers who may not be as knowledgeable about protocols and may not be as skilled as full-time workers, can also have an adverse impact on residents.

Nursing home nurses and aides must ensure residents receive the right medications and dosages at the right times, must be fed food and hydrated properly to avoid malnourishment and dehydration, and to ensure they are uncomfortable, don’t suffer falls or wander away, and generally make sure they are living comfortably and healthily. There is also something to be said about full-time staffers who have been there long enough to have developed a rapport with residents and to understand what they need. New York, like Illinois, is one of the worst rated states for nursing home quality of care. The recent picketing in downstate New York took place around approximately 160 nursing homes.

Ultimately, budgets and staff levels impact both staff as well as residents. Hopefully workers, their employers, and respective state governments can reach resolutions that are in the best interests for residents.

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