Decrying low wages, understaffing and a lack of resources, about 200 nursing home workers and supporters showed up for a rally and march in Rogers Park Thursday evening.
The SEIU* Healthcare Illinois union members have been in contract negotiations with nursing home operators for more than a year, with each of these issues being major sticking points.
But those aren’t the only problems, workers said at the rally, which marched in front of four nursing homes in the far North Side neighborhood along Sheridan Avenue.
“By them paying low wages, you are not able to retain the workers that are needed to give quality care,” said Tanya Pugh Rizer, who’s been a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, for 31 years. “We’re the main line. Without us there is no them, because we know when [nursing home residents] have a cold, we know when they’re not feeling well ... I know my own patients just like I know my own family members.”
She said members of the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities (IAHCF), a group representing hundreds of long-term care facilities throughout the state, profited about $50.5 million last year.
Some nursing home workers who spoke at the rally asked why some of that money couldn’t go towards a pay raise.
While the average CNA, makes about $10.55 an hour – $2.30 higher than Illinois’ minimum wage – they must become licensed themselves in order to be eligible to work in a licensed facility. To do that, they must meet training and education requirements. Also, those wages amount to a take home pay that is below the poverty level for a family of four.
Tanya Morris, who has been a certified nursing assistant for 13 years, said she, like many of her coworkers, paid for her six-month long training program out of her own pocket.
Here's more from the rally:
The health care workers also said they’d like the nursing homes to buy better-quality equipment and supplies.
“We never have enough supplies. We’re always short,” said Octavia Bradley. “In our facility, sometimes housekeeping will water down the soap ... We cannot clean our residents with the soap being watered down.”
Bradley said sometimes she and other staff members will have to use dirty clothes or other materials to dry off their patients after bathing them because the facilities lack adequate resources like towels.
Additionally, the group claims the problem of understaffing at some 25 percent of IAHCF nursing homes violates the state required minimum levels that were enacted by a 2010 reform law.
Pugh Rizer said the staffing ratio should be one CNA for every nursing home resident, but at some facilities a single CNA will be responsible for caring for up to 17 residents.
Illinois State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-14) proposed legislation to address the issue earlier this year.
“New legislation is needed to usher in a litany of reforms to strengthen standards for the quality of care nursing home residents receive, while subjecting the facilities to a new culture of accountability,” Cassidy said at the time.
Thursday’s action comes a month after about two-thousand workers staged a similar protest outside of Alden Debes Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Rockford, IL.
Interview requests to IAHCF were not returned for this story.
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