Easton nursing home workers join statewide picket for better pay, staffing – lehighvalleylive.com

Sometimes Uhura Scott is in charge of 19 patients during her job as a certified nursing assistant at Gardens for Memory Care in Easton.

“You can’t take care of them properly if you’re taking care of 19 people at one time,” said the Easton resident. “It’s hard. These people trust us with their family members.”

She joined about 25 of her coworkers at 500 Washington St. and thousands of nursing home workers statewide in an informational picket for better pay, staffing and benefits for nursing home workers.

“We want these residents to be treated with respect and dignity,” said nurse’s aid Alyssa Misero of Easton. “Long term care facilities have been forgotten about. We want them to be remembered. We want them to be on the top of the list to get what they need.”

The administrator for Gardens for Memory Care in Easton, Dave Francavilla, didn’t return an emailed message seeking comment. The facility is owned by Priority Healthcare Group based in Valley Stream, New York. A message left at the Priority corporate office wasn’t answered either.

The protest in Easton was one of about 40 in Pennsylvania, according to Carrie Santoro. She’s the campaign communications specialist for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a union for healthcare workers.

She joined workers calling for union contracts that address staffing and “poverty wages that have led to an astounding … average turnover rate in nursing home staff.”

Scott said a $3 an hour raise during the pandemic boosted her pay to $15.15 an hour.

“My niece works at the McDonald’s down the hill and she gets paid more than me. And she’s 18,” Scott said. “But I like what I do so I continue to do it.”

Workers like Niim Lassiter of Easton continued to work despite the risks of contracting COVID-19. He was out of work for three months after he tested positive in April 2020.

“You get the chills. You get fatigue. You feel like you can’t breathe. It’s horrible because you don’t know what’s going to happen. People die from this,” he said.

Santoro called on Gov. Tom Wolf and elected leaders to update nursing home regulations, which she said haven’t been updated in 30 years. She wants the state to increase the required hours of care per patient so nursing homes will be required to hire more staff.

Gov. Wolf’s spokeswoman, Lyndsay Kensinger, said the Wolf administration is working on a package of regulation updates for nursing homes. Six packages should be up for public comment by mid-June, she said.

“Throughout the last year, nursing home employees have supported some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable individuals and deserve to be compensated as such,” she said. “The Wolf administration believes that nursing home employees, like the rest of Pennsylvanians, deserve a living wage.”

Pennsylvania Health Department Spokeswoman Maggi Barton issued the same statement as Kensinger.

State Sen. Lisa Boscola said 30 years is too long to go without updating nursing home regulations. Her legislative district includes Easton.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made one thing clear: we must do a better job protecting the residents and employees in our nursing homes,” the Democrat said. “Nursing homes need to be better staffed and we need to encourage owners to retain good workers.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association blamed decreases in state funding for a drop in quality of care. The organization calls itself “a statewide advocacy organization representing Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents and their providers of care.” The organization called for the use of federal COVID-19-related stimulus funds to boost nursing home care.

“We are calling for the allocation and prioritization of funding from the American Rescue Plan for long-term care so that it can be reinvested into our frontline workers and vulnerable seniors,” said an emailed statement from the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

Santoro said the protesters want protections for seniors and caregivers when nursing homes are sold.

“These sales often happen with no transparency or accountability, leading to deteriorating standards and irresponsible owners,” Santoro said. “This accountability is significant because nursing homes receive billions in public funding and taxpayers have a right to know that the money is going to provide care.”

Santoro said Pennsylvania ranks as one of the worst states for COVID nursing home deaths.

“All of the nursing homes are dealing with the same crisis,” Lassiter said. “We’re just trying to stand up for the residents. I feel like it’s only right.”

About 4,500 nursing home workers at over 80 facilities in Pennsylvania will negotiate new union contracts this year, Santoro said.

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Rudy Miller may be reached at rmiller@lehighvalleylive.com.

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