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
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:
“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.”
On Monday, January 21, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day, Kisha Matthews, a CNA at Garden Spring Center nursing home in Willow Grove, joined hundreds of workers, activists, and community organizers at Bible Way Baptist Church in Philadelphia to talk about how we build power and change in Pennsylvania.
Kisha shared her story about her nursing home’s new owner, Vita Healthcare. Vita has slashed wages for some workers up to $11k a year and made healthcare benefits unaffordable with $10k deductibles for families and monthly premiums up to $900 at Garden Spring and Somerton Center in Philadelphia, driving down standards at both nursing homes.
Workers are standing up for their residents and fighting back against these cuts. Stand with them. Show your support at bit.ly/vitamlk
Frustrated by a revolving door of employees, and the impact it has on resident care, caregivers and service workers at Lafayette Manor in Uniontown held a 3-day strike beginning August 11th. In recent negotiations, management has only offered a ten cent raise, which union members say isn’t enough to stop staff from going to work for other nursing homes or hospitals.
“We have to stop losing good staff. The only way we can provide the best care for our residents, is if we have dedicated staff that are committed to our home,” said Kendra Brady, a Licensed Practical Nurse at Lafayette Manor.
One of Lafayette Manor employees’ chief concerns is staffing levels, with unfilled shifts a common occurrence on weekends. Despite this concern, management has not responded to union proposals designed to help boost staffing.
Beyond addressing staffing, union members have been urging management to involve front-line workers in discussions about the home’s future. Management proposed meeting in November, but workers are eager to jointly develop a plan to get back in the black, and think another three months is too long to wait.
“The staff have a lot to offer, but we need management to respect us, and be willing to hear our input,” said Brady. “Our residents deserve the best care now and we can’t wait another 3 months to address these issues.”
Unfortunately, the financial and staffing challenges at Lafayette Manor are all too common among Pennsylvania nursing homes with high numbers of residents on Medicaid.
“Every day, nursing home workers fight to maintain job and resident care standards after nearly a decade of flat Medicaid funding. Pennsylvania’s long term care system is in need of real, structural reform, starting with more transparency to ensure public dollars are invested at the bedside where they belong. Governor Wolf’s recent 1% funding boost is an important step in the right direction; now we need lawmakers to work together to ensure every nursing home job offers a living wage and every nursing home resident receives the quality care they deserve,” said Matthew Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.
The striking workers include the nursing home’s Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), laundry, housekeeping, dietary, and maintenance workers.
On June 1st, healthcare workers and members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania at Langhorne Gardens, Spruce Manor, Mountain City, and Broad Mountain Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers held informational pickets to urge a swift union contract settlement that raises wages, and restores employees’ access to affordable healthcare and a joint labor-management training program that improves care for residents.
Earlier this year, Ohio-based Saber Healthcare Group purchased the homes and refused to recognize the workers’ union contracts, instead implementing 44 immediate terms and conditions including a refusal to participate in the union’s healthcare plan, wage freezes, and the elimination of seniority, vacation, and holidays.
Additionally, Saber also refused to continue participating in the union’s Training and Education Fund, a unique member benefit that allows workers to improve their ability to provide care and advance their careers.
“We worked hard to set the standards in our contract so that we can keep good caregivers who are invested in our residents,” said Denise Lytes, a Langhorne Gardens Nursing & Rehabilitation Center employee. “Slashing benefits and freezing our wages isn’t good for morale or turnover, which means it isn’t good for our residents.”
“Saber eliminated everything that took us years to achieve, and that doesn’t just affect us, it affects our residents too,” said Porsche Elmore, a Spruce Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center employee. “Saber needs to invest in caregivers, and we’re going to continue speaking up so our residents have the trained staff and quality of care they deserve.”
Workers at Slate Belt Nursing & Rehabilitation Center were on the picket line as well. Their home was recently bought by Saber and the caregivers wanted to send the message that they will not go backwards once the new owners take over.
These facilities, like many other nursing homes across Pennsylvania, have experienced a rapid succession of owners, Studies have shown that changes in nursing home ownership can lead to problems with quality of care.
Saber Healthcare Group currently owns 111 long-term care facilities, including 19 nursing homes and personal care facilities in eastern Pennsylvania. In Fiscal Year 2016, Saber’s 13 skilled nursing facilities in Pennsylvania generated over $107 million in revenue and $1.8 million in profit. Eighty-nine percent of this revenue came from publicly-funded Medicaid and Medicare.
Any employee who shows up to a job and puts in a hard day of work should expect to go home with what they earned. But, too often that’s not the case with American companies committing billions of dollars in wage theft each year. This includes stolen tips, stiffing workers on overtime pay, not paying all wages for some of the hours worked, or refusing to pay promised wages. What’s worse is low-income workers are often at the greatest risk for this type of employment abuse.
In 2017, this was the reality for nearly 2,000 nursing home workers in Pennsylvania when their now former employer, Golden Living Centers, attempted to try to get out of paying some of the sick and vacation benefits the workers earned. But through their union, workers stood their ground and fought for what they earned. After over a year of legal proceedings, GLC has agreed to a settlement with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania for nearly $1.7 million.
“I am proud of what we were able to accomplish because we stood together as union members all across the state,” said Brennan Mills, a CNA at Meadows at West Shore in Camp Hill. “Companies will try to take advantage of workers like us when they get into financial trouble, but because we have a voice through our union, we were able to force GLC to pay us what they owed.”
In 2016 and 2017, GLC sold its portfolio of operations in Pennsylvania while maintaining ownership over the real estate where the facilities were housed. Because GLC failed to sell some of those properties by a certain date, under union contracts, the union contended that GLC was required to pay back the sick and vacation benefits union members had continued to accrue as long as they were GLC employees. An arbitrator agreed with SEIU in December 2017, but GLC appealed that decision in federal court.
So union members fought back, by speaking to the media, signing petitions and calling the GLC headquarters over and over to demand payment.
On April 4, 2018, SEIU met with GLC for a mediation session to try to reach resolution on the nearly $1.8 million owed to its members. Golden Living Centers agreed to pay workers about 89 percent of what they were owed for both sick and vacation time. Workers will receive these payments in three installments, due on or before June 1, 2018, November 1, 2018 and February 1, 2019.
“We are pleased that these hardworking caregivers will finally be compensated by Golden Living Centers for the money they earned,” said Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “While we wished GLC would have paid workers 100 percent of what they are owed, we believe this is the best outcome to ensure workers get paid now instead of having to wait potentially for years as the court process dragged on.”
In November, workers at the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic Health & Rehabilitation Center (LGAR) in Turtle Creek, Pa. ratified a new three-year contract by a vote of 34-1!
The contract raises starting rates for Certified Nursing Assistants to $15 per hour and $13 per hour for housekeeping and dietary workers with additional increases over the life of the contract. It also includes longevity increases of up to .90 per hour and triple time for holidays!
Workers at LGAR will sit down with management again in March 2018 to discuss healthcare benefits and inclusion in the Training and Education Fund.
This new contract is an incredible step in improving jobs at LGAR and attracting the best possible candidates to provide the highest quality of care at this historic nursing home. Well done, LGAR workers! Congratulations!
Workers at Westgate Hills Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Havertown, Pa. and Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Taylor, Pa. recently ratified a new contract with the new owners of both facilities.
The new owners implemented unpopular terms and conditions at both facilities, taking away accrued paid time off and limiting other benefits outlined in the previous contract. Attracting the best workers is key to delivering the best care at any healthcare facility and these new terms made it difficult to keep highly-skilled workers and attract the best applicants for open positions.
Workers were fiercely engaged in negotiations, passionately advocating for better terms in health insurance, PTO and the Training and Education Fund. In the end, their hard work and determination paid off.
Workers at Westgate and Riverside walked away from negotiations with a majority of the accrued PTO returned to affected employees and health insurance and pension benefits maintained at previously agreed upon rates. They were even able to add job security language to the new contract!
Congratulations to Westgate and Riverside workers for the incredible efforts to maintain job standards and continue to deliver the high quality of care their patients and residents deserve.
On Thursday, Nov. 16, nurses from Berks Heim Nursing Home joined concerned community members at the County Commissioners’ meeting to once again speak out against the sale of their nursing home.
According to a statement County Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt made to the Reading Eagle after examining the finances of the county-owned facility, Berks Heim could be saved if Berks homeowners paid a mere “$4.40 more in 2019.”
Supporters seized on the news, showing up to Thursday’s meeting with $5 bills in hand and signs reading, “Here’s a $5, Keep the Heim Alive!”
“Asking community residents to pay less than five dollars per year to care for their own loved ones is a small sacrifice in return for the benefits of keeping Berks Heim intact,” said Maryellen Nussbeutel, a licensed practical nurse at Berks Heim Nursing Home. “Berks County seniors deserve to live their lives in a reliable care facility, and their families should not have to worry about their safety or the quality of care they are receiving.”
Berks Heim nurses presented commissioners with stacks of petitions, signed by workers and family members of residents and urged them to continue exploring alternative measures to prevent the sale.
“The decision of this Commission reflects our community’s priorities,” continued Nussbeutel. “Our elderly residents deserve to be seen as more than just profit, and selling the home into private ownership would make them just that.”
“When we first learned our nursing home was being sold, the county assured us that both job and resident-care standards would not change,” said Alicia Laube, a certified nursing assistant at the center. “But just this week, we learned Premier is looking to slash our wages by $3 an hour and make our healthcare coverage so expensive we can’t afford to even use it. How can we hope to care for Washington County seniors when we will not be able to care for ourselves?”
Premier revealed their proposed changes to job conditions a week prior including wage cuts as much as $3 an hour for various departments and increases to healthcare costs of more than 10 times their original cost, making coverage virtually out of reach for employees.
Premier also confirmed plans to outsource management of dietary, laundry, and housekeeping to an outside company, HSG. HSG has asked all existing workers to re-apply for their jobs and refusing to offer details on potential changes to wages, benefits, or job conditions.
“The new owners have kept us completely in the dark about possible changes to our jobs,” said Mary Glendenning who works in the dietary department and offered testimony at today’s hearing. “They seem unconcerned by the overwhelming anxiety they are causing the workers. We need answers – our jobs and our futures hang in the balance.”
The final sale date was originally slated for October 5 but has since been pushed back to October 20. With the extended deadline, workers are hoping county commissioners will intervene and help workers push back against the most extreme proposals.
“We need our county commissioners to demand Premier and HSG honor their commitment to the workers who have dedicated their lives to Washington County and its residents,” said Zelda Pirt, who also works in the dietary department and offered testimony at today’s meeting. “We need our commissioners to hold the new owners accountable to maintaining good jobs and the type of resident care and services our seniors have come to expect.”
Despite the unreasonable changes proposed by Premier and HSG, union leaders and management are in the process of bargaining a new union contract for the 250 workers at Washington County Health Center.