“Every single day of the pandemic we’ve shown up to care for our residents despite short staffing, not enough PPE and the fear of getting sick and passing the virus along to our families. Many of my co-workers contracted coronavirus and one even lost her life as a result. We are here today to demand our legislators help nursing home workers and residents now by passing The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act,” said Adelina Ramos, a CNA at Greenville Center.
Rhode Island nursing home caregivers, family members, and other community stakeholders held a socially distanced rally at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday to demand that legislators pass the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act immediately to address short staffing and low wages.
Chronic short-staffing in Rhode Island nursing homes long preceded the COVID-19 pandemic with the state ranking 41st in the country in terms of the average hours of care nursing home residents receive according to recent CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) data. Data shows that Infection control violations are significantly more common in short-staffed facilities, with 66% of homes receiving only one-star ratings from CMS for staffing having infection control violations. As such, the state’s nursing homes were hit particularly hard by the pandemic; approximately 76% of all Covid-19 related deaths in Rhode Island have occured in long term care settings – one of the highest rates in the country. Recent data from CMS indicates 500 nursing home caregivers contracted the virus, 200 have presumed positive and four have lost their lives to COVID.
“Our nurses and CNAs are testing positive for COVID-19, staying home for 14 days, getting better, and coming back and getting a second positive because they are the only ones there to care for the residents. When our residents die from COVID-19, CNAs are the ones that have to bag them and put ties on them,” said Victoria Mitchell, CNA at Hopkins Manor. “Before the pandemic we were short-staffed. Now, nobody’s doing the job. It’s too much work, and it doesn’t pay.”
Indeed, poverty wages are driving the staffing crisis – the entry level wage for a nursing assistant is just $12.34 an hour with the media wage less than $15, $1/hour lower than the median wage in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. While caregivers are receiving poverty wages, nursing home owners made $242 million in profit from 2017-2018.
Additionally, Rhode Island nursing homes have received over $50 million dollars in state and federal funding in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Rally participants called for nursing home owners to invest these resources in frontline caregivers who have continued to put their own health on the line throughout the pandemic. Additionally they called on legislators to hold nursing homes accountable for providing better staffing to residents and a living wage to frontline heroes – the status quo in the industry is unacceptable.
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The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act, sponsored by Senate Whip Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence) and Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence), will:
- Require the federal recommendation of 4.1 hours of resident care per day.
- Earmark funding to ensure that caregivers are paid living wages on par with those in neighboring states
- Provide for skills training so that caregivers are prepared to care for an aging population with increasingly complex medical needs.
“I’ve worked in nursing homes for 39 years because I love taking care of the elderly. But nowadays, even before COVID, it’s like working in a factory. The residents aren’t getting the care they deserve and are at higher risk for many diseases, including COVID-19, when we don’t have the time to care for them properly,” said Dennis Hazard, a CNA at Genesis Pawtucket Skilled Nursing Center “We need the Nursing Home Staffing & Quality Care Act so our residents get the care I was able to give my own mom. If it was your mom I was taking care of, you’d want me to have the time to give her the care she needs.”
Here’s the rest of the video: