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Largest healthcare union in the U.S. launches campaign after NY’s nursing home report

On the heels of the New York State Attorney General’s report that revealed nursing homes with fewer staff had more COVID deaths the largest healthcare union in the U.S. launched a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign to reform the nursing home industry.

The union supports legislation to hold nursing home owners accountable to ensure quality care for the state’s most vulnerable, and protections for the dedicated men and women who care for them.

1199SEIU officials say the campaign, called Invest in Quality Care is necessary now because the COVID-19 pandemic amplified chronic shortcomings in the nursing home industry, including inadequate infection control, insufficient hours of care, low wages, high turnover, reliance on per diem workers, profiteering and insufficient state oversight.

These conditions contributed to 12,743 confirmed and presumed resident deaths in New York as well as high rates of infection and illness for nursing home caregivers. These COVID-19 deaths and illnesses disproportionately affected workers and residents of color. Residents and their families deserve high quality care and nursing homes must invest appropriately, rather than hiding profits through “related party transactions” and other complicated financial schemes.

“We cannot simply return to pre-pandemic conditions of sub-standard care and low-quality jobs,” said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU. “True comprehensive reform is needed to ensure that residents receive the highest levels of care, and that workers are able to remain safe and healthy as they tend to the residents they know and love. The state must ensure that the billions of taxpayer dollars being spent to provide care are actually being spent on quality care and not siphoned off as excessive profits.”

More than 65,000 members of 1199SEIU work in 343 nursing homes across the state. New York is one of only 10 states that has no minimum staffing requirement for nursing homes. New York ranks 45th in the nation in an important quality metric due to the high number of facilities that provide below average hours of care to residents.

In terms of nursing home staffing, New York is behind other states, for example, South Carolina and New Mexico. The number of hours of care a resident receives is directly correlated with resident outcomes, and fewer hours can result in When nursing homes are understaffed, residents suffer. Low staffing can result in pressure sores, falls and malnutrition.

“One day, I got to work early to grab something to eat before my shift started, but there was an emergency on the “total care” floor where residents cannot care for themselves,” said Linda Silva, a certified nursing assistant in a Rockaway Beach nursing home that is chronically understaffed. “I was running around to meet everyone’s needs, but I started to feel faint and I fell flat on my face in front of some residents. Someone called 911. I suffered cuts and bruises, a fractured elbow, sprained wrist, and torn rotator cuff. I couldn’t work for two months.”

The union will use its organizing, political and communications resources to lobby for a requirement that homes increase their spending on resident care and staffing. They will also push for state enforcement of the minimum hours of daily care residents must receive, as well as measures to improve infection control and prevent owners with poor track records from buying new homes.

In addition, the campaign will launch an information-rich public website and a series of digital and television ads throughout the winter and into the spring – augmented by lobbying visits in Albany, email blasts and public updates.

“It’s so emotionally and physically draining,” said Rosemary Harris, a licensed practical nurse who has worked at a nursing home in Cayuga County for the past seven years and recently found herself the only LPN on a floor with 40 patients. “Working short-staffed, you really can’t provide the care that these people are paying for and deserve.”

Instead of investing in enough staff to ensure quality care for residents, many owners are hiding their profits by sub-contracting services to companies they own, often at inflated prices. According to the Attorney General’s findings, “the current state reimbursement model for nursing homes gives a financial incentive to owners of for-profit nursing homes to transfer funds to related parties (ultimately increasing their own profit) instead of investing in higher levels of staffing and PPE.”

Recent polling shows that New York voters across party lines believe it is essential or very important that the Legislature pass nursing home reforms and fix these serious issues.

“Nearly everyone I work with caught COVID-19, including me,” said Ann Marie Fran, a housekeeper in a nursing home in the Hudson Valley/Capital Region. “I’m quite sure I got it on the job and infected my two children, one of whom, one of whom has diabetes and is high-risk. The State Health Department shut down two floors of the home because there weren’t enough caregivers and workers to meet residents’ needs. There were so few housekeepers that a supervisor told me to cut corners. That meant we couldn’t clean rooms every day and the home was not hygienic or safe for anyone.”

“1199SEIU members have been battling COVID-19 for a year, but the need for these reforms predates the pandemic,” Silva said. “Nursing home residents deserve the highest quality care, which requires true investment in the health and safety of the women and men who deliver this care. We are calling on nursing home owners to invest in these workers who treat residents like family, and we are calling on the state to stand with us to fight for what these workers deserve.”