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.
Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced it will close SCI Pittsburgh in order to make up for major budget shortfalls caused by lack of revenue. SCI Pittsburgh currently employs a total of 555 people, including 16 nurses. Nearly 1,900 inmates will need to be transferred to other facilities.
“It’s a disgrace that the politicians in Harrisburg didn’t find revenue needed to keep our institutions functioning when the money is out there. Instead of taking it out on the middle class working people they should be making sure big corporations are paying their fair share,” said Vista Johnson, a nurse at SCI Mercer. Johnson, a member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, has been dreading this day since the Department of Corrections first made the announcement. The list of possible closures included SCI Mercer, where Johnson has been a nurse for eight years.
“I appreciate that the Wolf Administration and DOC have been put into a very difficult position because of the failure of Republican leadership, but its unclear if this move will actually save us any money in the long run,” said Kevin Hefty, a Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the union that represents nurses employed by the Department of Corrections. “SCI Pittsburgh’s proximity to health facilities allows the Commonwealth to treat some very sick inmates at a lower cost. It has an oncology unit and those inmates, if transferred, would likely need to travel to Pittsburgh hospitals for treatment. Closing Pittsburgh means transferring these expensive inmates to other facilities that may not have the capacity or experience with such a challenging population. Any short-term savings will likely be offset by longer-term per inmate costs in the receiving institutions.”
Union leaders will be begin meetings with Office of Administration and Department of Corrections officials Monday to discuss how SCI Pittsburgh staff will be impacted and placements rights to other jobs.
If you have any questions, please contact Mike Forbes at Mike.Forbes@seiuhcpa.org.
Following up on a report and legislation introduced last week that offers a path to improve nursing home accountability in terms of spending, staffing and reporting, over 100 nursing home workers gathered in Harrisburg on March 18 to build support with lawmakers.
“I work as a CNA because I love taking care of my residents,” says Florise Louis, a licensed nurse practitioner from East Stroudsburg, “But too often, we have to work short staffed without the supplies we need. This adds extra stress and affects the quality of care we can give our residents. For our seniors this is unacceptable and I am going to Harrisburg to tell my legislators just that.”
As a result of report findings and in-district legislative visits caregivers have held throughout the year to demand increased nursing home industry accountability, legislators have responded, introducing a package of legislation to address current gaps in reporting, staffing and spending requirements.
Senate Bill 624, sponsored by Senator Sean Wiley (D-Erie) would require nursing homes to meet a minimum level of nurse aide staffing. Senator Matt Smith (D-Allegheny/Washington) is sponsoring Senate Bill 625 and 626 that would require nursing homes to report turnover and staffing levels to the Department of Health and require nursing homes spend a minimum amount of their Medicaid resident care per diem rate, respectively.
“Providing quality care to our seniors is the reason why nursing homes exist in the first place,” said Donna Heimbach, a certified nursing assistant from Lewistown . “As a CNA who is responsible for providing most of the hands-on resident care, I am thrilled with the idea of legislation that will increase the amount of time, money and accountability that goes toward improving care. We all have to work together to make sure our tax dollars are spent appropriately. After all, sooner or later, we could be the ones receiving care.”
Pennsylvania nursing homes made $500 million in profit in 2011 but a new report shows that nearly one in three failed to spend all of the state funding intended for residents on actual resident care. Meanwhile, most nursing home workers struggle to make ends meet, according to the report recently released from the state’s largest nursing home workers union, “Pennsylvania’s Long Term Care System: Building Careers, Enhancing Quality Resident Care.”
Report findings include:
The effects of inadequate staffing takes its toll on caregivers and residents alike. “On my assignment, I’m supposed to care for 9 or 10 residents. With that many residents, I usually have between 15 and 20 minutes to get them out of bed in the morning and move them to the dining room” said Yeta Okoth, a caregiver from Harrisburg. ”Unfortunately, often times I don’t even have those 15-20 minutes. On many days we are short staffed and I’m responsible for 14-15 residents. On those mornings when I walk into a room, I’d better have my towels, washcloth and soap ready.”
For months, caregivers have been meeting with their legislators in their districts to urge them to hold nursing homes more accountable to taxpayers, residents, and caregivers – and legislators are readying a package of legislation to do just that. Newly proposed legislation would require nursing homes to meet a minimum level of nurse aide staffing, report turnover and staffing levels to the Department of Health, and require nursing homes spend a minimum amount of their Medicaid resident care per diem rate.
“Quality nursing home care is vital to the Commonwealth’s seniors and the industry is also a major employer throughout the state,” said Senator Sean Wiley (D-49). “As legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure that every facility meets minimum standards of care so we know that our seniors are receiving the best possible care.”
“We need to ensure that the Commonwealth’s healthcare dollars are spent as intended – to provide the best possible care for our elderly and to ensure that caregivers have the resources they need to do their job well,” said Senator Matt Smith (D-37). “We owe that to our seniors.”
For over 60 years, Friendship Ridge nursing home has provided quality care to seniors in Blair County.
Citing financial concerns, County Commissioners announced plans to sell the home in December. They said $5 million would need to be cut from the home’s budget in order for them to reconsider. Workers quickly came together and formed a committee to come up with a proposal, making the hard decisions necessary to achieve those kinds of cuts.
“We have worked very hard on this proposal and will continue working to protect our seniors, because we know a county-owned nursing home is better than a corporation who puts profits over people,” said Denise Cox, who has worked at Friendship Ridge for 27 years. “We are trying to protect the home to hundreds of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Friendship Ridge is also a great asset to Beaver County. In 2011, the home generated over $57 million in revenue, and nearly 75% of that was from state and federal funding. Not to mention the family-sustaining jobs it provides, which are vital to the local economy.
On February 14th, workers held a rally, asking Commissioners to “have a heart,” accept their proposal, and preserve Friendship Ridge. They were joined by community and religious leaders and family of Friendship Ridge residents. You can find out more and sign their petition to protect Beaver County seniors at www.ProtectBeaverCountySeniors.org
On Tuesday, February 5 and Wednesday, February 6, we will begin our next bargaining session with GLC and Extendicare in Harrisburg.
To show them our strength in numbers, almost 3,000 of us signed our All In Unity petition. Now we have to keep working to get the rest of our employers on board.
On Tuesday, January 15, nearly 7,000 nursing home workers began bargaining new union contracts. Together, we are aiming to improve resident care, achieve family-sustaining wages and benefits and gain access to training opportunities that will help make our nursing home jobs high quality careers.
What’s more, as the healthcare system undergoes fundamental change,we need to have a voice in decisions that will affect our jobs as well as the industry as a whole.
And the stakes are high. Hear from Danielle Fox, a LPN from State College, PA about why coordinated bargaining matters to her and the residents she cares for each day. Together we are on the road to improving long term care!