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Union Caregivers Demand Improvements as Nursing Home Care Crisis Worsens

Healthcare workers with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania took their advocacy to the state capitol to outline issues and make recommendations for improvements to the Pa. House Committee on Aging and Older Adult Services

SEIU Healthcare PA President Matthew Yarnell (left) and CNA Yetta Timothy testified before the PA House Committee on Aging and Older Adult Services today on the care crisis faced by PA's nursing homes, seniors and the disabled.

SEIU Healthcare PA President Matthew Yarnell (left) and CNA Yetta Timothy testified before the PA House Committee on Aging and Older Adult Services today on the care crisis faced by PA’s nursing homes, seniors and the disabled.

HARRISBURG, PA — Nursing home caregivers testified today in front of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, describing the worsening conditions of their industry that must change if Pennsylvania wants to properly care for its rapidly-aging population.

“When I walk into my building, here is what I experience,” Yetta Timothy, a Certified Nursing Assistant in the nursing home industry told the committee. “Aides have no real assignment and we run from floor to floor just trying to hold things together. Residents are falling, missing meals, and not being toileted and forced to urinate on the floor. ‘Crisis’ is the right word.”

The scene is the same across Pennsylvania. Nursing home residents statewide are at risk because of chronic short staffing caused by poverty wages, inconsistent management and facility sales, stress, and excessive overtime. Even those who have worked in nursing home care for decades describe a feeling of “hopelessness” and do not know how long they can continue this work.

“There is a staffing crisis that is unlike any the industry has faced in recent memory,” said Matthew Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents over 10,000 nursing home workers across the state. “Providers are struggling to recruit and retain staff because, in our near full-employment economy, workers have options to work in less stressful jobs.”

And yet what the industry needs is more caregivers. Current regulations require that each nursing home resident receives just 2.7 hours of bedside care every day, which is not nearly enough to provide quality care.

In Wednesday’s testimony, Yarnell outlined recommendations aimed to improve care by ensuring the industry can recruit and retain an experienced, qualified workforce. With one of the fastest-growing senior populations in the country, it is critical Pennsylvania has a strong system in place to care for our aging women and men.

These recommendations include:

  • Staffing: Increase the minimum staffing requirement from the current 2.7 hours of care per day to 4.1 hours of care with a minimum amount of nurse aide hours. This is the staffing level recommended by the federal government as the minimum needed to provide adequate care.
  • Funding: Instead of across-the-board Medicaid rate increases, funding increases should reward and incentivize quality care, quality jobs, improved retention, and training.
  • Change of ownership: Transparency for stakeholders to weigh in on potential nursing home buyers, more effective oversight by Department of Health of potential buyers, and requiring new owners to not cut wages, benefits, or staffing standards for a period of time to ensure a smoother transition.

“As long as we allow caregivers to live in poverty, work short staffed, and see their hard-fought standards gutted by new employers, we are in turn failing our seniors and people with disabilities,” concluded Yarnell.

Despite the dire conditions, Timothy declared she would never stop advocating for her industry and the people she cares for.

“I’m staying at this job, but am working double shifts two or three times a week,” said Timothy, who also testified at a hearing on nursing home abuse ten years ago. “And I hope this is the last time I’m ever needed to testify to this committee about the staffing crisis in nursing homes.”

Watch Yetta’s powerful testimony.

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