Nursing home lawsuits seem to pit the residents (and their family) against long-term care facility owners, operators, and staff members. Yet, in many of these cases it would be inappropriate to consider the residents in an antagonistic relationship with the staff members. In fact, as elder care advocates have pointed out again and again, when it comes to ensuring proper care, the residents are usually on the same side as the staff members. That is particularly true when it comes to “front-line” care workers–or those who provide help to residents day in and day out. Many of those employees do yeoman’s work with long hours, little pay, poor benefits, and little employer support. On many occasions, it is those employees who are the first to stand up for residents when resources are cut to the bone by owners and operators. In this way, nursing home residents and their families often side with front-line care workers in various disputes with owners and operators.
Sadly, the drive for profits by many long-term care facilities often results in severe cutbacks for the employees who are the lowest rung on the totem pole–but who do the most for residents each day. Often those actions result in labor disputes.
For example, last week, as reported by CBS local, employees at more than 50 Illinois nursing homes–including 12 Chicago nursing homes–conducted an “informational” picketing in front of a local facilities. According to reports the picketing was in response to chronic problems at so many facilities. One employee interviewed for the story explained that, amazingly, her facility continues to face severe shortages of even the most basic supplies, placing resident care and quality of life at risk. For one thing, she noted that things like diapers–or even food!–was sometimes at a bare minimum. On top of that, her facility, like so many around the state, face chronic under staffing problems. There is simply not enough bodies to help residents in the timely way that is necessary. No matter how well-intentioned those care workers, failure to have enough bodies in the hallways is a recipe for nursing home abuse and neglect.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) commented on the problem at so many homes. SEIU officials noted that the facilities have enough money to improve pay, ensure adequate staffing levels, and guarantee decent supply stocks. However, without outside pressure to prioritize those goals, the facilities are often prone to increase the bottom line for owners at the expense of residents. The unified picketing at half a dozen homes was undoubtedly a response to that need for outside pressure. So many facilities fail to do the “right” thing unless they are forced.
SEIU representatives also pointed out that a 2010 state law mandates certain staffing levels. They argued that most facilities were falling below those requirements. If facilities are not obligated to obey state rules, then it is hard to see how those facilities will ever be motivated to make the changes necessary to spare early death and suffering at these facilities.
It is the same concept that is at the root of the accountability function of lawsuits against these homes. If owners and operators are allowed to skate by without consequence for maintaining conditions that harm residents, then there is little chance that necessary improvements will be made. However, when those affected stand up, point out the misconduct, and do everything in their power to uphold the law, then real change might be spurred in the future.
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