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Nursing home workers raise concern about implementing minimum staffing standards in New York

In October 2019, health care workers at a facility in Delmar demonstrated after they were told by their employer that health care benefits would be terminated.
Dave Lucas
In October 2019, health care workers at a facility in Delmar demonstrated after they were told by their employer that health care benefits would be terminated.

Nursing home workers and long term care advocates are airing concerns about the implementation of the 2021 New York state law that sets minimum staffing standards for nursing homes.

1199SEIU, the largest union of healthcare workers in the country, contends nursing home operators are forcing staff to work in facilities with an insufficient number of caregivers and workers to provide adequate care.

The staffing law calls for the state's more than 600 nursing homes to provide 3.5 hours of nursing care per resident per day. Advocates say that for two years, nursing home workers were hailed as the heroes of the pandemic. Grace Bogdonove, vice president of the union’s Western New York Nursing Home Division, says in COVID's aftermath conditions have worsened.

"Many nursing home owners and operators argue that they cannot meet the staffing standards because they can't find enough workers," said Bogdonove. "The reality is that there are enough nursing home workers to meet the standard. Our experience tells us that rather than a shortage of workers, employers are actually driving workers away from the bedside by offering low wages, poor benefits, and operating ineffective recruitment and retention policies and practices."

April Stonebraker has been in health care for 20 years, the past 12 as a licensed practical nurse at Elderwood Nursing Home at Lockport, where she says staffing levels have not rebounded post-pandemic, making it difficult to meet the requirements and demands patients need.

"When the legislation passed, it gave all of us healthcare workers hoped that there would be more accountability, more of a rush to get staff into the building, so that these employers would not be made to pay fines," said Stonebraker. "However, it has done the opposite. We have not seen an influx in our staffing levels go up. And it has taken a toll on all the healthcare workers. And it's making our staffing situation worse. On my rehab unit, we have about 25 residents, we can have anywhere up to 35, and on most days, there's one nurse, two CNAs. On the weekends, it's even worse than that there might be one nurse, and one CNA for 25 subacute rehab people."

CNAs are Certified Nursing Assistants.

An official with Elderwood says the facility in Western New York wasn't prepared to comment.

Mindy Berman, the union's communications director, says employees at the Delmar Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing have also experienced some very tough times.

"The fact that that's a fight, that just right here in Albany, when a bunch of workers said 'we're not making market wages,' and they're like, no, but practically the whole place is staffed with agency at this point," Berman said. "The employer, the owner said to them, 'alright, we'll raise your wages but we're going to we're going to take back, we're going to cut your health benefits.' I mean, that is that is a key to the struggle too, is that, the fact that that we even have to fight for physical and mental health benefits every day is ridiculous."

Berman says the union hasn't been able to find common ground with Delmar Center owner Bronx-based Centers Health Care, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Berman adds workers at the facility are taking a vote on whether to hold an informational picket in early October to seek more public awareness of their plight.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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