400 healthcare workers call on State Senator Martin to stand with them for strong unions, safe staffing, and fair funding
LANCASTER, PA — Over 400 nurses and other hospital, nursing home, home care workers and allies from across the state marched in Lancaster on Friday to demand State Senator Scott Martin stand with them to improve the health of Pennsylvania.
“As a nurse, I know what it takes to keep my patients healthy and safe,” said Annie Ruttkay, an RN at Hershey Medical Center who lives in Martin’s district. “Senator Martin’s record speaks for itself — he won’t sign onto safe patient limit laws and he wants to gut programs that allow people to get the medical care they need.”
The rally was sparked by Sen. Martin’s record of attacking workers’ rights through anti-union legislation(1), his failure to sign on to safe patient limit bills(2), and his numerous attempts to cut funding for Medicaid and General Assistance(3). All of these issues directly impact the health and wellbeing of people across the state.
For workers in nursing homes and home care settings, Friday’s action is significant. PA nursing homes are experiencing a staffing crisis, highlighted in a report released by Senators Casey and Toomey earlier this year. Providing caregivers a voice in their work, and ensuring these jobs are good, family-sustaining jobs, are widely considered key to solving the care crisis for our seniors and those with disabilities.
“Having a strong union means we have the power to advocate for our residents and their care,” says Shelly Robinson, CNA at Rose City Rehabilitation Center and Lancaster resident. “Healthcare workers having a say in their working conditions and wages is the way to better jobs, less turnover, better staffing, and better care for residents,” she said. “I want Scott Martin to know that everyone has a right to earn a living wage, to live decently and comfortably and to be treated fair.”
The home care industry continues to suffer extreme staffing shortages, with only one caregiver for every eight people needing care in their homes. Despite the importance and growing need of professional home care workers, the shortage is largely due to poverty wages and inconsistent schedules, made worse by threats of cuts to Medicaid.
Home care worker Lolita Owens spoke to the effects of Medicaid cuts and increased bureaucracy on her consumers.
“The woman I care for right now is bed bound and can’t care for herself,” said Owens. “I am with her in her home six days a week, and I feel very strongly about giving her the care she needs. Thankfully, she receives her services through Medicaid. If she loses her benefits because people like Scott Martin want to cut funding for Medicaid or make it harder to enroll, she wouldn’t have anyone to care for her and she couldn’t stay in her home.”
Ruttkay expressed frustration that Sen. Martin has not yet come out in support of SB450, the Safe Patient Limit bill.
A majority of nurses across the state support, and have been advocating for, the law, which would set the minimum ratio of nurses to patients in Pennsylvania. While safe patient limits could prevent 264 surgical deaths per year and lower overall mortality rates, they could also address the staffing crisis. Despite better outcomes, Senator Martin, who sits on the Health & Human Services Committee, has so far refused to support the legislation.
“With lower ratios, I can do things like take patients for walks, I can care for patients in a way that speeds their recovery process,” says Ruttkay. “Scott Martin should know that the ratios proposed in SB450 are staffing levels that are safe for patients. Scott Martin and other legislators need to trust nurses, we want this legislation and elected officials need to trust that we know what’s best for our patients.”
The group, represented by Martin’s constituents Ruttkay and fellow Hershey Medical Center nurse, Bobby Armstrong, presented an oversized pledge to Senator Martin’s office asking him to stand with healthcare workers. His office staff advised Ruttkay and Armstrong that the pledge was “too controversial” for them to sign.
The group of nurses and other hospital, nursing home, and home care workers were attending a leadership conference in Lancaster, focused on how they can protect their patients and communities through strong unions, safe staffing, and fair funding. They said when they realized that Sen. Martin has a record of opposition to these core values, they felt it important to let him know how his decisions in Harrisburg affect not just the people in his district, but patients across Pennsylvania.
1 SB104 – sponsored Bill Text; SB371 – sponsored Bill Text
2 SB450 – undecided, will not commit Bill Text
3 SB847 – sponsored (introduced) Bill Text; SB322 – authored Bill Text; HB33 – voted in favor, passed Bill Text
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.