Part two of our week-long series highlighting the amazing work our nurses do every day.
Tina Siegel, LPN — Listening and Learning
This June, Tina Siegel will have been a nurse at Golden Living Center — Clarion for 30 years, even though she never expected to be there that long.
“When I first started out I thought I’d like to work in a hospital, where you’d see all the new technology and new procedures,” said Siegel. “But then I went into long-term care, and discovered I just really enjoy helping make the elderly people’s lives better.”
Tina, a charge nurse, also credits her long tenure to a good team of people, to which she’s grateful for the residents’ sakes.
“Some of the residents don’t have families, so we’re the families that are there for them. At this stage in their life they’ve worked hard and they deserve the best care they can get, and that’s what we’re there for.”
“I enjoy the residents,” said Siegel. “I enjoy listening to their stories, they have a lot to tell us if we have the time to listen, which isn’t always easy in long term care.” In fact, finding the time is getting even harder, because of required documentation and shrinking Medicare funding.
In fact, finding the time is getting even harder, because of required documentation and shrinking Medicare funding.
“We used to have time, if residents had family coming, to mess with their hair and make it a little nicer, and now it’s about paperwork, not as much about the residents as it used to be,” she opined. “We’re held more accountable by the state to make sure we’re performing the care, which is a good thing and important, and yet it takes away from the residents.”
Tina finds Medicare funding to be the biggest challenge.
“Nursing home reimbursement right now is a mess, and it’s always changing,” she says. “Right now the reimbursement is 2.7 hours per day per resident, and that includes RNs, LPNs and CNAs, and that’s not enough. The residents deserve more than that. With the union, we’re working on legislation right now to increase the funding to nursing homes.”
Nurses at Golden Living Center Clarion have been unionized since 1991. As a result, says Tina, “we have fairly good staffing and not a lot of mandatory overtime, because the employer knows we have a strong union in our workplace and that if they don’t follow the rules there will be consequences.”
That wasn’t always the case.
“In the past we didn’t even have enough supplies, so in the early nineties we went on a three-day unfair labor practices strike to get the residents what they need.”
But when the nurses went back, they were locked out of their jobs, and a three-day strike turned into a year.
“It was hard, because we wanted to be there for the residents,” remembers Siegel. “But then we were on strike for the residents.”
Eventually, the strike was effective and when Golden Living later bought the facility, “they knew we were a force to be reckoned with.”
The union chapter at Golden Living lends its strength to other workers as well, especially at other Golden Living Centers. While most of the nurses in the 39 Golden Living Centers in Pennsylvania are union members, Tina says, “there were quite a few LPNs there that weren’t unionized, and their sick time got taken away.”
Tina and colleagues teamed up with them, and in 2013 they won the same benefits that nurses at other Golden Living Centers have.
“I was there fighting because I felt they deserved the same benefits at the same company,” she said. “And by bringing our wages and benefits up, it helps not only the nurses and aides and housekeepers in the Golden Living Centers, but it helps bring wages and benefits and working conditions up in other homes around us.”
Tina’s involvement with the union has taken her to Harrisburg as well, to make legislative visits about the bill to stop mandatory overtime – never mind her broken foot at the time.
“We made a lot of visits, and eventually changed our local legislator’s mind,” so a broken foot was no obstacle.
This past year, Tina became a member of the SEIU Healthcare PA Executive Board.
“I thought about it for years, but just didn’t have the time to put into what I thought it would need.”
When her schedule allowed her, she joined to “help keep other members in my northwest section involved in the union, and get more people involved to make statewide changes to make better jobs and working conditions.”
She is still making a better job and working conditions for herself, too. Right now she’s enrolled in LPN enhancement courses through the union’s training and education fund.
“Some of it is brushing up on technical skills, but a lot of it is holistic care for the long-term residents,” Seigel said. “Learning how to comfort them and dig a little deeper to figure out how to help instead of just medicating them.”
Tina is so dedicated to learning, she was doing homework on vacation. In fact, to interview for this article. she called from Florida, where she and her husband go every spring to relax before they get busy on their beef cattle farm. Yes, in addition to nursing full-time, Tina also helps manage a farm. They used to raise pigs too, “but that was a little harder when both of us were working full time.”
“If you want to go somewhere, cows can take care of themselves for a little bit,” she laughed.