As the Baby Boomer generation ages, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have become an increasingly more important part of our lives. Many of us rely on these facilities to help care for our parents, grandparents and other aging relatives.
And while we entrust our most vulnerable loved ones to these facilities and the dedicated health care professionals who staff them, most of us remain largely unaware that another vulnerable population is being taken advantage of in this process — the caregivers themselves.
According to new findings from the Keystone Research Center (KRC), while the nursing home industry thrives, reporting $407 million in profits in Pennsylvania alone in 2014 (up from $370 million in 2013), nursing home staff members struggle to make ends meet.
Many of these caregivers are paid so poorly they rely on public assistance and food banks to survive. According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, close to 15,000 caregivers in nursing homes today receive public assistance through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (or SNAP), Medicaid, or both. That’s nearly one in six! The estimated taxpayer cost of this assistance is $118 million annually.
But the taxpayer assistance doesn’t stop there. The profits the nursing home industry takes in are funded largely through Medicaid and Medicare — two more taxpayer funded systems. That means industry owners are draining the coffers from both ends.
That’s why nursing home workers are joining the national Fight for $15 movement. One in three of these workers makes less than $15 for this incredibly important and difficult work of caring for the elderly and infirm. They deserve better.
Raising wages would not only improve the lives of these dedicated workers, but it would help to rebuild our communities by boosting local economies and getting more people off public assistance. According to the KRC, raising starting wages in nursing homes to $15 an hour would add $300 million back to our local economy and more importantly, to the budgets of struggling families trying to make ends meet.
These low wages have another negative effect on the industry — the quality of care our loved ones receive. When wages are kept low, recruiting and maintaining a top-notch staff of trained professionals becomes almost impossible. Turnover is high and it’s the residents of these facilities that truly suffer the consequences.
The nursing home industry is a profitable one and it can afford to pay a living wage. It’s time we demand they do just that and put an end to corporate welfare. Taxpayer money should be spent on good jobs and high-quality care, not to line the pockets of wealthy industry executives and CEOs.
That’s why, this Nov. 10, nursing home workers across Pennsylvania will be rising up in historic numbers to join other low-wage workers across the country to join the Fight for $15 and demand better jobs and a path to stronger communities for all of us.