As Nursing Homes Come Under Fire For Illegally Discharging Patients…Workers call for good jobs, safe staffing, and improved patient care
CHICAGO— As Illinois nursing home owners come under heightened scrutiny for improper patient discharges and inadequate staffing care, more than 1,000 nursing home workers picketed at 11 nursing homes in the Chicago area on Friday, to stand up for fair wages, quality jobs, and patient care.
Holding large banners reading “Nursing Home Work is Worth More,” and signs reading “Fair Wages, Dignity and Quality Care,” hundreds of workers joined by state legislators, gubernatorial candidates, elected officials and community leaders including Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Cook County Board Commissioner Chuy Garcia and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), marched and chanted outside multiple nursing home facilities across Chicagoland.
“I am proud to stand up with nursing home workers today in their fight for respect and fair wages,” said Chuy Garcia. “Theirs is a job that takes heart and soul every day and improves the lives of our most vulnerable family members. Yet nursing home workers, the majority of whom are women of color, are among the lowest paid workers in the state.”
Over 10,000 nursing home workers at 103 facilities have, as members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, been fighting to negotiate a new contract for over a year to improve the quality of nursing home jobs and address concerns over low wages and patient care. Yet, despite receiving about $1 billion in revenue each year and an increasing number of residents, for-profit nursing home owners have refused to significantly raise staffing levels and have actively worked to keep wages low.
Workers came together to protest at facilities including Alden Wentworth Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, Princeton Rehab & Health Care Center, Legacy Chalet Living and Rehab, Alden of Waterford Rehabilitation & Health Care Center and Alden Debes Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in a brave confrontation with nursing home management. Meanwhile, Nursing home workers at locations across the state are also moving toward a vote to strike.
“Our patients aren’t just numbers in a spreadsheet—they’re people’s mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles,” said nursing home worker Kenya Baker. “I’ve seen firsthand that patients deteriorate faster when they don’t get the care they need. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to stop nursing homes from shortchanging their patients—and that starts with safe staffing and good jobs.”
Thousands of nursing home workers in Chicagoland—the majority of whom are women of color—are among the lowest paid workers in the state. They help seniors with their daily needs, like feeding, bathing, changing and administering medication—yet despite the demanding nature of their work, the level of skill and training required and the crucial role workers play in safeguarding the well-being of seniors and people with disabilities, nursing home owners want the right to pay workers less than the minimum wage.
“As a certified nursing assistant for 15 years, I’ve devoted my life to caring for others,” said Reyna Rundberg, a nursing home worker from Grove of Northbrook. “So it’s frustrating to feel like I can’t afford to care for my own family or even meet all of my patients’ needs at work. I’ve listened to a year of weak excuses from nursing home owners, and enough is enough: we demand that nursing home owners stop prioritizing profits over patient safety.”
At the same time that nursing home workers are negotiating a new contract, they are also working in Springfield with the Alzheimer’s Association to pass new safe staffing legislation. Despite a 2010 law which set minimum staffing requirements at long-term care facilities, more than one-third of nursing home facilities across Illinois continue to staff at dangerously low levels, leading to the improper discharge of seniors and people with disabilities into hospitals and psychiatric units. As Illinois faces one of the worst rates of long-term care resident abandonment in the nation, the state legislature is currently considering two bills —SB 1624 and HB 3392— that would make it harder for nursing homes to violate existing legal staffing requirements and chalk up small penalties to the cost of doing business.