On the heels of a devastating study on the impact of poverty wages in the nursing home industry, hundreds of healthcare workers are joining the national movement
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, hundreds of nursing home workers across Pennsylvania took to the streets in their communities to stand up for better wages for healthcare professionals doing a difficult job. Rallies were held in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Hollidaysburg, Erie, State College, Johnstown, Stroudsburg, Washington, Allentown, Fayette, Wilkes-Barre, Reading and other communities, joining other low-wage workers across the country holding similar actions as part of the Fight for $15 movement.
This move came less than a week aftera new study from Keystone Research Center revealed that 15,000 nursing home workers in PA are forced to rely on public assistance because of poverty wages in the industry. Nursing home workers called on elected officials and employers to make all nursing home jobs start at a minimum $15 an hour.
Public assistance to nursing home workers costs taxpayers an estimated $118 million per year, according to the KRC report. Because nursing homes receive the majority of their funding from Medicaid and Medicare, the industry is “double dipping” on taxpayer dollars when it pays low wages and forces workers to rely on state-funded public assistance.
I often work as many doubles and overtime as I can to try to stay ahead, but it usually isn’t enough. Most of the time I feel like I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Yetta Okoth, a Harrisburg-area CNA.
“Despite all those hours and all that work, I have been on public assistance for much of my adult life. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not right that someone can work MORE than full time and not be able to cover basic necessities and care for her family.”
Nursing homes made over $400 million in profit in fiscal year 2014 and can afford to increase wages for workers. Raising nursing home worker wages to a minimum $15/hour would put over $300 million in the pockets of workers and millions more in tax revenues.
Raising wages would also have a big impact on resident care, by reducing turnover and stabilizing the workforce so residents can receive the quality of care they deserve. Workers see the effects of poverty wages on care every day.
“We have a lot of good workers at my nursing home, but they just work so much because they cannot afford to live off one job,” said Donna Heimbach, a CNA from Lewistown with 18 years experience. “They are working double shifts, or have jobs at three different nursing homes. Their spirit is there, but they just look like zombies because they’re exhausted. No one can keep that kind of schedule, so eventually they burn out and we wind up short staffed.”
The movement to raise wages for low-income workers continues to grow as new waves of workers add their voices to the Fight For $15 and a Union, including airport, childcare, home care, retail workers and adjunct professors. Nationwide, thousands of people took part in Fight For $15 events.