PITTSBURGH, July 30 – State Rep. Ed Gainey has introduced the Nursing Facility Accountability Act in an effort to ensure publicly funded nursing home employers provide family-sustaining jobs and better resident care.
“Nursing home workers have physically and mentally stressful jobs. If New York City can raise minimum wage workers’ salaries, then we certainly owe it to those who work full time taking care of seniors and people with disabilities, to ensure they do not need to rely on public assistance benefits to stay out of poverty,” said Gainey, D-Allegheny, during a Thursday news conference held to discuss the legislation.
Gainey’s proposed Nursing Facility Accountability Act (H.B. 1449) would incentivize nursing home employers to pay $15 an hour to workers through the creation of a statewide Living Wage Certification Program which would provide information to nursing facility residents and the public on the minimum wage rates paid to employees. Additionally, nursing home employers would have to reimburse the state for the costs incurred by providing public assistance benefits to workers.
A report released earlier this year by the Keystone Research Center confirmed that 52 percent of Pennsylvania nursing home workers can’t support their families on the wages they earn, with many relying on public assistance benefits or working more than one job.
The median wage for nursing assistants in Pennsylvania nursing care facilities is about $13 per hour or $27,061 per year, while dietary and housekeeping workers earn $10 to $11 an hour or $23,000 or less per year.
“I have been at the same nursing facility for 13 years and make $13.90 an hour. I’ve watched too many of my co-workers go through sheer agony trying to take care of their families on the wages they earn.” said Debbie Wenzel, a personal care aid from Allegheny County. “$15 an hour would mean nursing home workers could start putting money aside for our families without having to rely on public assistance and we could afford to continue providing care to our residents.”
According to the report, the nursing home industry can afford to provide a living wage – in 2013, it generated more than $370 million in profits. Nursing homes derive 70 percent of their revenue from Medicaid and Medicare; at the same time, 14 percent of nurse aides and 28 percent of dietary workers say they or someone in their family receives public assistance benefits.
“Our commonwealth reimburses nursing facilities that participate in the Medical Assistance program at a level that is sufficient to pay its employees a living wage and not have to rely on public assistance programs,” Gainey said.
A wage increase also would benefit nursing home residents by reducing turnover, improving continuity of care and lowering recruitment and training costs. Based on industry estimates, halving turnover from the industry standard of 66 percent for nursing assistants could, by itself, pay for a 60-cent per hour increase in caregiver wages.
There are more than 80,000 seniors and people with disabilities being cared for in nursing homes across the commonwealth. By 2030, the number of Pennsylvanians 85 or older is expected to grow to more than 400,000 residents.
“To guarantee this growing population receives the high quality care and services they require, we need a well-trained and well-compensated workforce,” Gainey said. “Fewer nursing home workers relying on public assistance means less of our tax dollars are used to subsidize the profitable nursing home industry and instead can be directed toward education and other critical needs.”