Add To Favorites

Nursing homes across Pa. brace for potential strike; aim for little disruption to life of residents

Patriot-News - 9/1/2022

Nursing home providers across Pennsylvania on Thursday were bracing for the impact of a strike as thousands of nurses, health aides, and other support staff were expected to walk off the job Friday morning in a dispute over how for-profit companies use millions of taxpayer dollars to bolster caregiving in nursing homes.

As of publication time Thursday afternoon, no compromise had been reached between providers and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a union representing nursing home workers.

The strike is poised to impact 14 facilities, two of them in the Harrisburg region.

“No healthcare worker ever wants to go on strike,” said Karen Gownley, a spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

“Our goal is to reach agreements that ensure the $600M in state funding is invested into staffing and bedside care and raise job standards to tackle the staffing crisis and get nursing home residents the care they need and deserve.”

At issue is how much of that aforementioned $600 million earmarked by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature will go to workers, many of whom say they are working longer hours, taking on duties outside their jobs, and even rationing food for residents.

The union reached an agreement with one provider - Guardian Healthcare - earlier this week.

“We know it can be done,” Gownley said.

With no breakthrough announced, providers were setting protocol in motion to ensure care to nursing home residents was not disrupted.

“The safety and security of our residents is of paramount importance,” a director at The Gardens at Blue Ridge in Harrisburg, one of the nursing homes poised to be impacted by a strike.

“In the event of a strike, we anticipate that many employees will choose to continue to work with our patients. However, we have also implemented a contingency plan utilizing non-union staff and agency nursing staff to assist with daily care as needed.”

Sharps said The Gardens at Blue Ridge will continue to be fully staffed and healthcare services to residents will not be affected.

“We will continue to provide the proper care which our residents have always received,” she said. “We will never abandon our obligations or our commitment to our residents and those employees who recognize their responsibilities.”

The funding infusion approved by the Wolf Administration earlier this year directed $250 million in one-time payments to long-term care providers with no requirements on how the money is spent. Facilities have used similar payments on COVID-19 costs like testing and PPE as well as for one-time recruitment or retention bonuses to workers.

The remaining funds represent a permanent increase in state funding to pay for low-income residents’ stay in care facilities, with a new requirement that 70% of all costs go to “resident-related care” — though exactly what that encompasses is unclear.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a union representing nursing home workers, says issues for residents and their caregivers are mounting.

It is demanding that the increased funding be spent on higher wages and better benefits for nursing home workers to stem turnover. The union is also asking for language that protects workers’ next contract in case a care home is sold, transparency in how the homes use outside contractors, and a guarantee that companies won’t fight future union drives.

RELATED: Thousands of Pa. nursing home workers may strike despite $600M for care in state budget

Zach Shamberg, chief executive of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said his organization on Thursday remained committed to helping both sides reach a compromise.

“Providers want it. Workers want it. Residents and residents’ families want it,” he said. “We’ve been vocal. No one in Pennsylvania should want a strike. We are experiencing access to care issues in long-term care today. A strike, a potential strike, even in a handful of nursing homes has the potential to disrupt care and the potential to exacerbate access to health care issues that already exists.”

Shamberg said the nursing home care community is singularly focused on its residents.

“It’s all about continuity of care and ensuring that current residents can continue to be cared for in the days and weeks leading to a potential strike,” he said. “Providers have been working around the clock to ensure they have enough staff to care for residents and that means contracting with more and more agency staff. That means bringing staff members and workers from outside the area and even from outside Pennsylvania to ensure that care can continue.”

That strategy, however, is sustainable over the course of a few weeks, but not much more.

“It’s extremely expensive and these are providers that even with the budget increase and Medicaid increase are still struggling day to day,” Shamberg said. “It is not sustainable for the long term. That’s why the idea of an agreement or compromise is even more heightened. This type of care, this type of operation cannot continue for weeks or months on end.”

Pennsylvania has roughly 680 nursing homes. The impending strike, which is set for 7 a.m. Friday, involves only a handful of facilities. The current number is 14 total, given that negotiators recently reached an agreement with a number of them.

“We are still talking about thousands of workers and thousands of residents and still talking about thousands of residents’ families,” Shamberg said.

He added that family members of residents should see little disruption.

“My message other than a picket line outside the nursing home is that there’s not going to be a disruption,” Shamberg said. “There’s not going to be anything else out of the ordinary. But ensuring care can continue through agency staff and outside staff that’s only sustainable for so long. We have to find an agreement, a compromise to make sure residents don’t have to be transferred or discharged.”

The new $600 million infusion will be doled out in installments. First, sometime this fall, long-term care providers such as nursing homes will receive $250 million in federal stimulus money.

Then, starting in January 2023, providers will see an approximately $35-per-resident-per-day increase in the state reimbursement rate for taking care of low-income residents — a 17.5% bump. Facilities will be required to show that 70% of their total costs are resident-related, rather than for overhead or administration.

Exactly what resident-related costs are is not defined in the legislation.


Millions of Pa. criminal records are wrongly kept from the public, but there’s no legislative fix coming

Pa. school district cancels over $20,000 of student lunch debt

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Nationwide News