Healthcare workers at the Meyersdale Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center along Hospital Drive again took to the streets to rally this week.
The Meyersdale protest was part of a statewide effort to demand better staffing and pay, higher employment standards and accountability for fundraising. Nearly 2,000 nursing home workers across Pennsylvania rallied at the same time in front of 32 sites to continue the demand for higher standards, according to a press release from the Service Employees International Union.
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SEIU is a 2 million member international union with 20,000 members in Pennsylvania. Meyersdale’s SEIU union is about 60 strong, and members here took part in a similar protest around this time last year.
Julie Walker – the union representative for this local establishment – said a contract for SEIU members working as licensed practical nurses, certified practical nurses and dietary, laundry and housekeeping employees has been extended until the end June.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure our residents get the best possible care, but we need reform,” Walker said. “We need everyone to work together – the community, the health care facility and the politicians.”
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The looming contract deadline at Meyersdale is just one of the topics union members are bringing to the table. Workers are demanding reform and accountability in state funding, as well as improving their own health care coverage.
According to Cindy Burk, union representative in Harrisburg for the SEIU’s health care chapter in Pennsylvania, all nursing homes are facing tough times, with dire staffing shortages and substandard salaries that aren’t keeping up. the pace of other companies.
“Unfortunately, our workers are leaving because they can get higher pay in another job across town,” Burk said.
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“Our seniors in Pennsylvania need better care and there needs to be better funding for nursing homes. Our current workers are stressed trying to do their best at their jobs and doing all they can during that other staff leave for higher pay elsewhere.”
According to a SEIU press release posted online Thursday at seiuhcpa.org, 70% of nursing home funding comes from public funds. SEIU believes there is no accountability to ensure these funds go to bedside care and improve staffing.
The press release says that with a current state budget surplus and American Rescue Plan Act funds still available, Pennsylvania is in a position to make significant progress toward solving the long-term care crisis. and reform of the nursing home industry.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, irresponsible nursing home ownership, and decades of regulatory neglect have left our nursing home system in a catastrophic crisis…96% of nursing home workers in Pennsylvania said they don’t didn’t have the staff to provide the quality of resident care they would like,” the press release reads.
Union representatives said they were looking for safe staffing standards so that there are enough caregivers to provide quality care to residents. They also require the ability to better recruit, retain and train caregivers.
“At Meyersdale, we care for our residents like family, and some of us have been dedicated and have worked here for years,” Walker said. “We were stressed by COVID-19 and did our best to provide them with the appropriate care.
“We were their family when there were restrictions on their families entering the facility. We’re just asking for standards to be raised and accountability to be put in place.”
Several of the unionized workers stood along Route 219 at the end of Hospital Drive on Wednesday afternoon waving signs as many passing drivers honked their horns and shouted in support. Some of the signs read “Respect and protect all care home workers”, “Fund our care homes, our seniors deserve better” and “We deserve affordable health insurance”.
The workers came and went at different times in the afternoon, and some members of the workers’ families also showed their support.
“The nursing home regulations that caregivers work under now are the same as when I was a CNA 25 years ago,” said Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “They weren’t enough then and it’s even worse now. Caregivers are getting burnt out, injured and leaving these jobs. They’ve had enough and it’s time for the legislature to embrace sustainable funding and responsibility that our seniors and our workers need.”
Workers plan to take their demands to Harrisburg later this month, with a rally scheduled for May 25 on the steps of the capital. More information about their position can be found at www.BetterNursingHomesNow.com.
The management of Guardian Healthcare – which runs the Meyersdale Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center – had no comment before the press deadline.