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Schuylkill Center caregivers form union for a voice in care during pandemic

Licensed practical nurses and nursing assistants join other Genesis Healthcare employees in SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania

More than 140 caregivers at Schuylkill Center, a nursing home owned by Genesis Healthcare, will have a strong voice at work after joining SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania this past Thursday. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit nursing home workers hard and exposed many issues in the industry, leading a growing number of caregivers to organize unions to protect themselves and their residents.

COVID-19 has spread like wildfire in Pennsylvania nursing homes, leading to large numbers of infections among residents and workers alike. Schuylkill center has had 105 cases among residents and 82 cases among workers, meaning close to a majority of workers were infected at some point during the pandemic. While many factors contribute to infection rates, a recent study showed that unionized nursing homes have lower mortality rates from COVID-19 infections. 

“Especially with the pandemic, we need a voice in the decisions affecting us and our residents now more than ever,” said Susan Stine, a certified nursing assistant at the nursing home. “We formed a union because we need to protect ourselves and our residents, and make sure Genesis is doing everything it can to keep us safe and healthy.”

Even before the pandemic, workers were concerned about investment in frontline care and staff. Genesis has failed to provide regular raises to Schuylkill Center caregivers while taking away holidays, retirement contributions, and other benefits. LPNs and nursing assistants organized to make sure resources are used to recruit and retain staff, and improve staffing, especially in light of the millions of dollars in Federal government aid Genesis received during the pandemic.

“Our residents deserve the very best, and we need Genesis to invest in us so we can keep providing the high-quality care we are known for. It’s hard to provide quality care to our residents when we’re struggling to take care of ourselves and our own families,” said Diane Pritiskutch, a licensed practical nurse at Schuylkill Center. “We’re looking forward to negotiating a contract that puts resources back into the frontlines of resident care.”

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Nursing Home Workers are Fighting to Improve Standards at McMurray Hills Manor

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Caregivers at McMurray Hills Manor are proposing contract improvements to ensure standards of care at their nursing home.

McMURRAY, PA – Caregivers at McMurray Hills Manor held an informational picket outside their nursing home on Monday, June 17, to call on management to respect their work, pay fair wages, and provide more training opportunities so that they can provide the best care to their residents.

MMH Web 4“I love this place, the people I work with, and the residents I care for,” said Mary Ellen Amos, LPN and union chapter president at McMurray Hills Manor. “That’s why I’m out here today – to fight for all of it!

I want to make this a better place to work so that the best people want to work here and stay here. That’s how we provide the best care for the people inside who need us.”

Workers at McMurray Hills Manor are fighting to maintain the high standards of care their residents have come to rely on as they negotiate a new contract with nursing home administrators. At issue are cuts to scheduled wage increases, a draconian attendance policy that penalizes workers for using sick days they have earned, and other issues that would lower job standards at the home. Delivering the best care to residents means having the best staff to deliver that care.

MMH Web 1Today’s picket comes while nursing home care in the state is under increased scrutiny. Earlier this week, a national advocacy group gave Pennsylvania nursing homes a failing grade, ranking the state 46th for care.

That’s why nursing homes like McMurray Hills Manor should be investing in their facilities and their workers, not making cuts and creating policies that drive down job standards.

“If the administration doesn’t start thinking about how it can respect us and invest in us then we aren’t going to be able to hire the new people we need,” continued Amos.

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Nursing Home Caregivers Meet With Sen. Casey to Discuss Fixing Troubled Industry

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Caregivers from recent troubled nursing home report have open dialog with Senator about improvements.

HARRISBURG, PA — Just days after Senators Casey and Toomey made public a list of troubled nursing homes in Pennsylvania and nationally Senator Casey sat down with a dozen caregivers from some of those facilities to speak openly about the challenges and how to improve care.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania applauds the Senators’ bipartisan work to shed light on those nursing homes that persistently fall short and provide greater transparency to individuals and families facing the life-altering decision to choose a nursing home.

“We’ve known for years that the nursing home industry has struggled because we live this every single day,” said Elizabeth Empson, who has worked in nursing home care for 25 years. “We love our residents and want to give them the best care possible and, through our union, we advocate for them and for better standards. We are thankful that Senator Casey suggested we meet to discuss ways to ensure nursing home employees are supported because as the people who do this work, we must be part of the discussion on how to fix it.”

Casey Web 2In the private meeting, the workers shared what a typical day is like, in which two Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) are often responsible for the care of 40 residents.

“Flat funding, low wages, short staffing, and high staff turnover have created a spiral of declining quality,” said Matthew Yarnell, President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, who was also at Friday’s meeting and started his own career as a nursing home CNA. “It is imperative that Pennsylvania invests in bedside care. We need more caregivers, and to do that, we’re going to have to make sure nursing home jobs are good jobs that attract and retain people to this work.”

Current state regulations require just 2.7 hours of direct care per day, per resident, which does not allow enough time to provide quality care. The caregivers at Friday’s meeting agree with the recommendations of experts and the Federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which recommends 4.1 hours of direct care per day per resident.

To meet the demand for improved staffing, the Commonwealth will have to increase funding for nursing home care, and couple it with policies and oversight that make sure it reaches direct care providers, which is why the Long Term Care Council recommends that increased funding must be regulated to ensure it goes to bedside care, where residents need it.

“Workers will not come to nursing homes and stay when they see what it’s like every day,” said Yetta Timothy, who has been a nursing home CNA for 19 years. “I’d much rather talk about why I love taking care of seniors, but I am glad Senator Casey met with us so we can work together.”

“We must work together – workers, management, facility owners, and elected leaders,” agreed Yarnell. “If we don’t, we continue to fail our seniors and people with disabilities.”

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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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Vita Nursing Home Workers Honor MLK Day by Pushing for Their Own Economic Justice


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.

MLK2Kisha 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

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Nurses Hold Statewide Vigil for Safe Patient Limits

NA Safe Staffing Banner 2018

Hundreds of nurses across the state gathered to shine a light on the care crisis and pledge to vote safe staffing on November 6th.

Dozens of nurses across Pennsylvania held candlelight vigils Wednesday evening  as a call for action to end chronic short staffing in our state’s hospitals and nursing homes by electing candidates on November 6th who support safe patient limit laws.

“This is a human being issue. This isn’t about republicans or democrats, it’s about humans,” said Paula Stellabotte, an ICU RN from Altoona.  “All of us are going to need the care of a nurse at some point in our life and we want to be able to be there for you.”

As healthcare becomes increasingly corporate, care decisions in hospitals and nursing homes are being made by executives rather than those on the frontline of care. Nurses must do more with less as executives place the bottom line ahead of patient care.

“Nurses have been working to try and fix the care crisis but management doesn’t always listen,” said Kim Heverly, RN. “Until there are laws in place that set a safe limit, hospitals aren’t going to take notice and they aren’t going to change anything.”

In a study of 1,000 bedside nurses last year, 94% of nurses say their facility does not have enough nursing staff and 95% have been unable to provide best care as a result. Research shows implementing safe patient limits in Pennsylvania could reduce surgical patient deaths in hospitals by 10%.

For the past year, nurses across Pennsylvania have met with candidates and legislators to educate them about the crisis and urge them to commit to supporting safe patient limit laws. (PA House Bill 1500 and PA Senate Bill 214). To date, there are 51 cosponsors of the bills in the house and 18 cosponsors in the senate, representing both sides of the aisle.

“If I have 11 patients in a 12-hour shift that means I see each patient for just 1 hour a day – and that patient may only get 2 hours of nurse time in a 24-hour period. That isn’t enough,” said Jenna Miller, RN. “We need our elected officials to stand with nurses and that means passing these laws. If you aren’t with nurses on this issue then we will vote you out.”

The website allows voters to easily identify candidates in their area who stand with nurses and support safe patient limit laws. Earlier this year, Governor Wolf became the first governor in Pennsylvania history to publicly support safe staffing laws. The Governor also appointed a bedside nurse to the Patient Safety Authority Board, which helps shape hospital care and standards.

Nurses say voters need to know it’s time for change.

“Somedays it feels like we are just barely holding on; our whole teams are stretched,” continued Heverly. “We are in a crisis and it is time to end. This election, we have the opportunity to elect folks who will support safe patient limits and who really stand with nurses.”

Vigils were held Wednesday night in Altoona, State College, and Luzerne.

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Lafayette Manor Caregivers Do Whatever It Takes to Improve Care

IMG-1385Lafayette Manor Caregivers Hold 3-day Strike to Improve Resident Care

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. IMG-1413Despite 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.



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Saber Nursing Home Workers Stand Up for Better Care, Better Jobs

34192239_10156451739919031_7124870970447233024_nOn 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.”34122447_10156451739959031_6004980629089812480_n

“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.

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2,000 Nursing Home Workers Stand Union Strong and Force Golden Living Centers to Pay Them $1.7 Million

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.”

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LGAR Workers Ratify Contract, Win $15 an Hour!

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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!

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