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As General Assembly convenes, nursing home workers rally for safe staffing and fair wages

“The General Assembly’s failure to pass this legislation has perpetuated a racist system of poverty wages and unsafe conditions for a workforce that is disproportionately immigrant women of color.”

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While the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services met online to take up the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act (S0002/H5012), nursing home caregivers and supporters held a socially distanced rally outside the Veterans Memorial Auditorium as the Rhode Island House of Representatives, which blocked passage of this important bill for the last two years, met inside.

Upon passage, the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act would “mandate minimum staffing levels and standards for quality care for nursing homes and their residents with violations subject to monetary penalties, appropriate $600,000 for enhanced training to provide care for residents with increased cognitive impairments, and provide wage increases subject to the rate of inflation.”

The General Assembly’s failure to pass this legislation has perpetuated a racist system of poverty wages and unsafe conditions for a workforce that is disproportionately immigrant women of color. The vast majority of long term care workers are female (82%) and a disproportionate share are Black (26%) with a growinq percentaqe of immigrant caregivers. Nearly six in ten long term care workers (58%) are in the lowest paid 40% of the overall workforce with the poverty rate for women of color (22%) in direct care being higher than the poverty rate for white women (17%).

“We lost many of our residents to COVID-19 which has been absolutely heartbreaking,” said Shirley Lomba, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) who has worked at Bannister Center for 17 years. “As we’ve done our best to care for our residents throughout the pandemic, many of us have gotten sick, our families have gotten the virus and some of our co-workers have died. Now, after nearly a year of COVID-19, we still don’t have the staffing we need to stay safe at work. We need our lawmakers to step in and pass the safe staffing bill now.”

“Rhode Island‘s nursing home workforce is largely immigrant, women of color who have suffered the same effects of systematic racism that impact Black and brown workers across this country, forcing them to work in unsafe conditions for poverty wages,” said Adanjesus Marin, the coordinator for Raise the Bar on Resident Care, a coalition formed to pass the legislation. “We are seeing in Rhode Island nursing homes how systemic racism negatively impacts all residents and caregivers. Just as Martin Luther King famously said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman,’ Rhode island caregivers are refusing to accept the deadly status quo in this industry any longer. That’s why they are calling on the General Assembly to pass this bill to give caregivers the staffing and resources they need to care for their residents and their families, during and after the pandemic.”


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While the nation reels from some of the highest COVlD-19 nursing home death rates over the last four weeks, Rhode Island nursing home residents and caregivers have long suffered the impact of a short staffing crisis that preceded and helped exacerbate the impact of the pandemic. Rhode island currently ranks 41st in the country, and last in New England, for the average number of hours nursing home residents receive. The state currently ranks third in the nation for the amount of per capita COVlD-19 related deaths in nursing homes. Multiple recent studies show a direct link between short staffing and COVID-Infection rates.

“We‘ve faced a staffing crisis for years in our nursing homes, but COVID has only made being a caregiver even more challenging,” said Trish Connley, a CNA at Greenville Center. “Working over the last year has been so emotionally and mentally exhausting, and there are days when I have gone home in tears because I feel like I can’t give our residents the care they need. We desperately need our General Assembly to pass the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act so we can provide our residents with the compassionate, high-quality care they deserve.”

The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act was introduced by Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence) in the Senate and Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) in the House. “This has been an issue for many years,” said Representative Slater. “It’s something that we needed to address before Covid, Covid has just exasperated this and brought it to our attention. It’s something we need to do as a legislature. It’s an issue we need to resolve and get this done.”

Patrick Quinn, leader of SEIU 1199 in Rhode Island:

Oprah, and employee of the Charlesgate Nursing Center:

Ditra Edwards from Sista Fire RI:

Rabbie Jeffrey Goldwasser:

Patrick Crowley, Secretary General of the RI AFL-CIO:

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.

atomicsteve@gmail.com