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#NoMoreExcuses: Healthcare workers demand legislature fund staffing

HARRISBURG, PA — On Tuesday, nurses and other caregivers rallied inside and outside the state capitol to demand the legislature fund healthcare staffing and get money to the bedside.

“I want legislators to know that if they’re not making fundamental changes in healthcare, and investing in more staffing immediately, this crisis is going to be worse than anyone can imagine,” said Nelson Jones, a nursing home worker who traveled from Philadelphia to meet with legislators today. “I see short staffing first-hand and know what it does to people — The morale of workers goes down when it’s impossible to do all that needs to get done, and you can’t be there for your residents like they need. You see it on the faces of the residents. They lose hope. And once your hope is gone, you’re sitting there in a wheelchair or bed day after day, and you’ve got nothing.”

Pennsylvania is in a care crisis — Our healthcare workforce has been annihilated, stretched to the breaking point after years of understaffing and then a pandemic that took an unimaginable physical, financial, mental, and emotional toll on the workforce.

As a result, there are not enough healthcare workers to take care of us and our families in hospitals, nursing homes or home care settings, and our public health is struggling.

As state legislators went into session to discuss the budget, caregivers want to be clear that federal COVID relief funds must be used to rebuild our healthcare workforce and save lives.

“For years we’ve heard ‘there’s no money, there’s no money,’” said Lynn Weidner, a home care worker from Allentown who joined today’s event and notes there is only 1 home care worker for every 8 people in Pennsylvania who need services. “Now we have funding and they’re still dragging their feet and debating where this money should go – There is no debate. People have died and suffered and this crisis has only gotten worse. We need healthcare staffing now.”

Surrounded by hundreds of posters with short staffing stories submitted from caregivers, patients, nursing home residents and families, the group met with legislators to demand:

  • Billions PA received in federal COVID relief funds be invested into staffing and bedside care immediately before one more life is lost. 
  • Transparency and accountability to make sure money actually reaches the bedside.
  • Provide $250 million for nursing home staffing immediately to move from crisis to reform the industry.
  • Fully fund the Department of Human Services budget to build the home care workforce Pennsylvanians need.
  • Fill public nurse vacancies across the state with $25 million to keep our communities safe and healthy.

“I’m frustrated,” said John Berezansky, RN, who works for the Department of Health. “I’ve been doing this work for 30 years and nurses have been fighting for better staffing that whole time. Look around – does it really need to take all these deaths to prove the point?”

Berezansky points to the Department of Health budget, which was cut by over $49 million between 2010 and 2021. “When the legislature keeps making cuts to health, they set us up for failure. We are living through that right now.”

Nursing homes, hardest hit by COVID, now have a 128% turnover rate, making advocates fear for the future of senior care in Pennsylvania. 

“I could say ‘the time for change is now’ but the sad and unfortunate truth is: The time for change was years ago. 13,000 of our nursing home residents are dead because of delays, inaction, and misplaced priorities,” said Keshia Williams, a nursing home CNA. “Caregivers are leaving the bedside in droves because they cannot put in one more triple shift. They cannot break their backs at work all day and yet know it still wasn’t enough because their residents need and deserve more.”

“Caregivers have had our community’s backs and shouldered the burden of this pandemic,” said Matthew Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “Legislators need to have theirs.”

Contact: Karen Gownley at karen.gownley@seiuhcpa.org or 717-805-6070

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SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania is the state’s largest and fastest-growing union of nurses and healthcare workers, uniting nearly 45,000 nurses, professional and technical employees, direct care workers, and service employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home- and community-based services, and state facilities across the Commonwealth. SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania members are committed to improving the lives of health care workers and ensuring quality care and healthy communities for all Pennsylvanians.

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