SEIU, lawmakers call for more protections for nursing home workers
Nursing home workers and lawmakers are calling on facility owners to do more to protect front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois held a virtual press conference Thursday to call on facilities to provide protective equipment to staff, training on how to use it and hazard pay.
Problems raised by the pandemic are only exacerbated by existing problems of understaffing, poor pay and lack of equipment at these facilities, said union President Greg Kelley.
“This is not a new problem in nursing homes,” he said. “Unfortunately, this pandemic has brought it home and residents are dying, our members are dying and getting sick.”
Data released by the Illinois Department of Public Health on Sunday reported at least 286 deaths at nursing homes linked to COVID-19, almost a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the state. At least 1,860 cases have been reported in 189 facilities in 22 counties, including 104 facilities in Cook County.
The union’s criticisms come as 78 state lawmakers sent a letter this week to the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities, an organization of nursing home and long-term care facility owners, calling for improved conditions for its nursing home workers. The lawmakers said employees should be provided enough personal protective equipment and trained on how to use it.
“If the COVID-19 public health pandemic has accomplished one thing it has uncovered the very real problem that front-line healthcare workers haven’t received the support, respect, and compensation they deserve to support themselves and their families,” the letter said. “Please consider contributing to the solution. Now is the time to save lives – not pennies.”
The association is currently in negotiations with SEIU Healthcare Illinois on a new contract for healthcare workers at more than 100 nursing facilities.
Shaba Andrich, vice president of nursing homes at SEIU Healthcare, said a federal mediator is currently involved in contract negotiations and they were waiting for the association to submit a response to a response to their proposal.
The lawmakers’ letter, he said, enforces the greater need to protect nursing home workers during the pandemic.
“We join them in the call for nursing home owners, union and non-union alike, to step up to the moment and do what’s required at this moment,” he said.
IAHCF could not be reached for comment.
The letter also notes that legislators expected $240 million approved for nursing homes last year would be targeted for worker wages and resident care, and that they have not yet seen those funds used toward those purposes.
“This also comes in light of news that the nursing home industry is asking for millions more in immediate state funding for purposes which are unclear,” the letter said. “We are alarmed to learn of this request when the money previously authorized hasn’t yet been used for its intended purpose.”
Matt Hartman, executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association, said that $240 million still does not cover the total $600 million shortfall faced by nursing homes because of low Medicaid rates.
“Any contention that nursing homes got this windfall and all of a sudden Illinois Medicaid operators are flush in cash is a little disingenuous, at best,” Hartman said.
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