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New report details intensifying staffing crisis in Rhode Island nursing homes



Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states across the country that have no minimum number of hours of direct care per resident per 24 hours.

This morning, nursing home caregivers, religious leaders, families with loved ones in local nursing homes, and community organizations from all across Rhode Island gathered at Bannister Center to announce a new coalition, Raise the Bar on Resident Care, formed in response to the need for safe patient limits regulation in Rhode Island. The coalition gathered to release an alarming report on the plight of nursing homes staffing standards in the state. The 12-page report highlights the dire shortage of registered nurses (RNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) present in Rhode Island facilities, the low wages and high turnover rates, and the lack of safe staffing standards for resident care.

Read: Raise the Bar on Resident Care

“I’m here today because we need to stop sweeping this issue under the rug,” said Shirley Lomba, a certified nursing assistant at Bannister Center. “Rhode Island nursing homes are understaffed and Rhode Island caregivers are underpaid. Those are facts. When our residents have more time with their caregivers, they have better outcomes. The lack of staffing standards forces us to rush through the very basics of care and doesn’t give us any time to answer questions or even just chat with our residents; basic things that are necessary to maintain quality of life. We’re fed up, and we’re here to demand change.”

As the report details, by 2030, 100,000 Rhode Islanders will turn 65. Within the following decade, the number of persons aged 65 to 74 will double and the number of persons aged 85 and over will increase by 72 percent (the state already has the highest proportion of 85-and-older individuals in the entire country).[note]Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council. (2016). Aging in Community: Executive Summary Report, June 2016.[/note] These trends will no doubt accompany an increased demand for convalescent care.

Rhode Island’s neighbors have responded to similar increases in their elderly populations with support for their nursing home systems and caregivers, but the Ocean State has taken a different approach: the median wage for a nursing assistant is $15.54 per hour in Massachusetts[note]Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Occupational Employment Statistics.[/note] and $16.18 per hour in Connecticut[note]Connecticut Department of Labor (2018). Labor Market Information: Occupational Employment & Wages.[/note] as opposed to just $14.42 in Rhode Island.

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Moreover, all other states in New England and all but 11 in the entire country have passed staffing regulations that establish minimums on the number of hours of daily care a resident must receive. Without these requirements, Rhode Island nursing homes have become dramatically understaffed, which, in turn, has undermined the principal objective of assisted living communities: to provide residents in need with the best possible quality of life.

“Most importantly, why we need to act now, is that there is a long-term, demographic piece that’s happening,” said Patrick Quinn, Executive Vice-President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NE. “By 2030 we’ll see an increase of a thousand residences in Rhode Island at over age 65. Many of us, thank God, have good health well into our 60s and 70s. Not everybody does, but all of us at some point is going to need institutional care in a nursing home when we get into our late 70s and 80s, and that group is going to grow exponentially over the next couple years.

“We need to fix this problem now, because if we don’t, we’re going to experience a shortage and a disconnect between the number of caregivers and the number of residents that need care.”

“I know that the people who provide residential care are engaged in holy work. They are the ones who pay attention to the needs of our elders, who care for some of the most vulnerable in our communities. These people are the ones who embody the scriptural command, ‘Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent,'” said Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Cranston. “It is our obligation as a society to make sure that these workers are treated according to the dignity of their profession. Nursing home residents deserve consistent staffing to assure that they are cared for, appreciated, known and valued. Nursing home workers deserve to work in an environment where they can see that the residents they care for are treated with dignity and love.”

As the demands placed upon Rhode Island nursing home workers multiply, many have no choice but to leave the industry altogether, which only exacerbates already ballooning turnover rates and further detracts from quality of care. The report calls for the passage of a minimum staffing standard of 4.1 hours of care per resident per day, an increase in starting wages of CNAs to at least $15 per hour, and a focus on training and workforce development moving forward as immediate first steps towards resolving Rhode Island’s resident care crisis.

Sista Fire stands here today humbled, humbled at the idea that the sisters and brothers behind me are struggling to do what they love,” said Ditra Edwards of Sista Fire. “They don’t show up every day because they have to. They show up because they care about what’s happening in these nursing homes. They care about what’s going on with residents. The fact that residents are not getting what they deserve in the most vulnerable state of their life, it’s ridiculous.

“When are we going to stand up and believe in the people who have value in our lives in a way that shows love and commitment to everyone?” concluded Edwards. “When are people of color going to be able to say that this state gives a shit about us?”

The local organizations present at today’s press conference included: District 1199 SEIU New England, Fuerza Laboral, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, Sista Fire, Rhode Island AFL-CIO, Rhode Island Organizing Project, Rhode Island Working Families Party, and the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty.

[This report leaned heavily on a press release from the Raise the Bar Coalition]

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

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