Caregivers at 21 nursing homes across the Commonwealth take critical step to demand staffing and wages to reform the industry.
PENNSYLVANIA — Nursing home workers at 21 different homes across the Commonwealth will hold a 1-day strike on Tuesday, July 27th. Caregivers were driven to the decision by the growing crisis in PA’s nursing homes and lack of action to address the perfect storm of unsafe staffing, a global pandemic, and outdated nursing home regulations.
“COVID ripped the band-aid off what we’ve been going through for the past 20 years,” said Shelly Lawrence, a Certified Nursing Assistant in western PA. “Staffing is terrible and wages are too low to bring in the staff our residents need. Going on strike was a hard decision, but we have to send the strongest message we can for this one day that will make the real change we need.”
The approximately 1500 workers– representing nurses, nurses aides, and other caregiver positions — are currently negotiating separate union contracts alongside thousands of other PA nursing home caregivers. Almost all have identified safe staffing, living wages, increased starting wages to recruit caregivers and affordable healthcare as key priorities that need to be addressed by employers if this care crisis is going to be resolved.
“I hope this is a wake-up call for the industry,” said Amanda Sanders, a dietary worker at Uniontown Health and Rehab. “We love our jobs and caring for our residents, which is why we stay. Some of us have been here our whole lives, and we want to provide the best quality care possible. But we are so short-staffed, and our residents suffer for it.”
Studies show that staffing shortages are associated with serious complications including pressure ulcers, medication errors, and new infections. With one caregiver now providing daily care to 20 or more residents per shift, workers see the consequences of the staffing crisis every day.
“If a resident needs to be turned every 2 hours but you can’t get there for 4 hours, they risk pressure sores,” said Terry Thomas, a Certified Nursing Assistant at Powerback in Philadelphia. “If they aren’t getting properly bathed and getting lotion applied, skin will break down. If they’re not changed out of soiled briefs for hours, they’ll get a UTI.”
Adding to the crisis are state nursing home regulations, which haven’t been updated in decades. The current staffing guidelines say residents only need 2.7 hours of care per day, far less than what studies and experts agree is needed to provide safe, quality care. Workers are demanding the Department of Health update the minimum to 4.1 hours of care, and that employers join them in building the reform that’s needed to transform the industry.
Last month, the PA legislature passed a state budget that allocates $247 million from the American Rescue Plan for nursing home staffing, wages, and affordable healthcare for workers. These funds can help bring and keep caregivers at the bedside — current staff turnover rates average 128% — but employers’ offers do not address the low starting wages that make it impossible to recruit enough caregivers.
“When workers decide to go on strike, that’s a very clear indication of just how bad things are,” said Matthew Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “They have been demanding change for decades, and then watched as their residents, coworkers, and own families died of COVID. We need to reform our long-term care system to one that focuses on people — both those needing care and those providing the care.”
“It’s already hard when family members have to make the decision to put their loved ones here,” continued Sanders. “But they put trust in us that we will take care of them properly. That’s what we’re standing up for.”
Nursing homes included in the strike (full list to come) are:
- Riverside Rehab and Nursing Center, Taylor
- Uniontown Health and Rehab, Uniontown
- Beaver Elder Care, Aliquippa
- Saunders House, Wynnewood
- Powerback, Philadelphia
- Gardens at Blue Ridge, Harrisburg
- Workers will be on the picket line at the above locations Tuesday, July 27th from 7am-5pm.
- Media opportunities at each location:
- 12:30 noon — Enough is Enough Rally
- 4:00 pm — Vigil
- Live streams, photos, and updates from the picket line on social media: facebook.com/seiuhcpa
Contact: Karen Gownley, email@example.com or 717-805-6070
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SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania is the state’s largest and fastest-growing union of nurses and healthcare workers, uniting nearly 45,000 nurses, professional and technical employees, direct care workers, and service employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home- and community-based services, and state facilities across the Commonwealth. SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania members are committed to improving the lives of health care workers and ensuring quality care and healthy communities for all Pennsylvanians.