As nursing home workers prepare to strike, the House declines to pass a safe staffing bill, instead opting for a study commission.
As workers rallied outside six Rhode Island nursing homes to demand safe staffing and adequate pay, House leadership moved to block a safe staffing bill in favor of a study commission. The safe staffing bill has been before the House for years, and the House has mountains of testimony from nursing home owners and workers, so the actual need for a study commission is questionable.
“Rhode Island’s nursing homes are facing tremendous challenges,” said House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick). “COVID-19 has placed their residents and workers in potential danger, Medicaid reimbursement has been dramatically reduced, and it is difficult to hire and retain the necessary amount of staffers to deliver the care that patients deserve. This is a complex issue that needs to be studied and addressed so that the nursing homes, their patients, and their staff are properly supported and fully operational.”
As for the safe staffing bill that nursing home workers have been demanding, House spokesperson Larry Berman confirmed in an email that the bill “will not be passing the House this year.”
Outside Bannister House, Adanjesus Marin, Lead Organizer for Lifelong Care at SEIU New England, told reporters that the safe staffing bill has the support of Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island Department of Health and “anyone with common sense.”
“We are confident that [the General Assembly] can do it,” continued Marin, “but if they don’t, we are ready to hit the streets.”
Caregivers from three different nursing home facilities have set a deadline to strike if they are unable to reach a settlement on their contract proposals to achieve safer staffing for residents, fair wages, affordable healthcare and access to training opportunities. On Monday hundreds of caregivers from Genesis Pawtucket Nursing Center, Hopkins Manor, and Genesis Greenville voted to strike starting at 6am on July 29, and Marin suggested that Bannister House may soon be joining them.
Over one year ago, caregivers at Genesis Pawtucket Nursing Center, Hopkins Manor, Bannister House, Charlesgate Nursing Home, Aldersbridge Nursing Home and Genesis Greenville submitted contact proposals that would ensure residents receive the federally recommended 4.1 hours of care per day and would provide workers with fair pay and benefits on par with neighboring states.
These proposals would begin to address the short-staffing crisis that has plagued Rhode Island nursing homes for years and has contributed to untimely deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rhode Island ranks 41st in the country in terms of the average number of hours residents receive. The CDC has affirmed for years that infection rates are higher in poorly staffed nursing homes. On Monday, the Rhode Island Department of Health submitted testimony to the state Senate affirming their support for legislation requiring 4.1 hours a day of direct resident care. Governor Raimondo announced her support for the legislation at a press conference on July 10.
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But despite having workers’ contract proposals for over a year, management has refused to respond in a meaningful way. Now, with the strike deadline looming, caregivers are sending a strong, united message to management that they won’t back down until there is true progress at the bargaining table.
UpriseRI spoke to Yvrose Francois, a CNA at Bannister House, who spoke about how important adequate time with patients can be to the health of the residents at the nursing homes.
“The patients are like family,” said Francois. “So we need to have enough time to take care of them. Sometimes we need a little time to sit done with them because that’s how you get to know them.”
When nursing home workers don’t have adequate time to spend with patients, “It’s not a good feeling when you don’t have enough staff to do what you need to do” said Francois. When nursing home staff have more time to spend with residents, “They love it,” said Francois. “They start telling you things about themselves.”