ALTOONA, PA — Workers at Valley View Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Altoona are standing up to corporate owners Reliant Senior Care after the company decided to cut benefits for the staff and hike their monthly healthcare premiums as much as 1500%.
“Reliant’s plan is like being told I’m only worth minimum wage,” said Gretchen Miller, a longtime LPN with Valley View.
The hike would send the cost of coverage skyrocketing to well over $1000/month for some, leaving families in poverty or uninsured. Reliant generated over $150 million in profits in 2013 and bought Valley View promising to invest in the community. Now, they want to shift a burden onto the community, as workers struggle to make ends meet and turn to public services to get by.
But workers aren’t just concerned for themselves. They’re worried for their residents. They know that if benefits keep being cut, longtime employees will leave and it will be impossible to hire quality care givers who are qualified to take care of residents.
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Miller. “We already have a hard time finding people to work here. Add in Reliant’s proposal and no one will want to work here.”
On the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 25, workers attended a county commissioners meeting to implore their help in dealing with Reliant. Valley View, once a county-owned nursing home, was sold to the corporation last year with promises from commissioners that workers would get a fair deal from their new owners. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Commissioner Ted Beam, who voted against the sale last year, supported the workers and even joined them on the picket line later that day, but admits that the commissioners have little control over Reliant now that they own the nursing home.
Commissioner Diane Meling, who supported the sale, laid the blame for rising costs on the Affordable Care Act, ignoring the fact that healthcare premiums have only risen an average of 3.9% under the ACA. That’s much lower than the 10.9% annual increase consumers saw before the ACA was put into place and comes nowhere close to the 1500% increase Reliant is forcing on workers.
“The Affordable Care Act was created to help the uninsured and people who work for small businesses get affordable health insurance,” said Sharon Pope, a CNA at Valley View. “Not to help million-dollar corporations make healthcare unaffordable and shift the burden.”
In the afternoon, workers took to the streets in front of Valley View to make the public aware of what was going on in the facility.
“We won’t just sit back while Reliant tries to strip hardworking people of their ability to provide for their families,” said Natalie Earnest, another CNA at the home. “Based on its demands, Reliant seems to only care about profit and will do anything to save a buck. We won’t let them do that at the expense of our community.”