If you’re wondering what kind of fearless, caring soul works in New Jersey nursing homes, consider this terrifying calculation: Our long-term care facilities still have the highest COVID rates in the country, there are still 120 active outbreaks today, and nursing homes still account for one in three COVID deaths in our state.
As of Wednesday, there were 8,687 deaths in these facilities, including 145 staff members – people who left their own families in crisis to care for our seniors. They performed this backbreaking and dangerous job without proper masks and PPE, often before testing was widely available, with protocols too often botched by overwhelmed supervisors.
More than 23,000 of these workers contracted the virus, risking their lives for $ 14 or $ 15 an hour. They are caregivers who take care of bathing, changing and eating. There are laundry workers, housekeepers and kitchen helpers. Right now, you’d think their employers and a grateful audience would find a way to value them as the health heroes that they are.
But here are the thanks they get: Nowadays, many show up to work to find that their workplace has been sold – most often to a private equity firm – and their union-negotiated benefits are gone. .
Let’s say that a business model that treats work staff like throwaway parts in the healthcare industry is ludicrous and counterintuitive. But it’s also unacceptable in any universe that revere the dignity of the workers and the elderly they serve, so it’s time to bring two bills to the Legislature that will help end this moral shame.
The latest example occurred in the old Windsor Gardens home in East Orange, bought by Complete Care Management, which bought 12 residences this year: Workers showed up last spring to learn that their new employer had torn up their collective agreement and canceled their health insurance, pension, education benefits and paid vacation.
Similar ruthless tactics have been used statewide – from Englewood to Burlington – typically by companies like Toms River-based Complete Care.
Workers at 1199SEIU, New Jersey’s largest health union, picketed many of these sites, including the new Complete Care in Orange Park two weeks ago. But negotiations for a new contract have stalled and workers, needless to say, are becoming desperate.
Thus, Senator Joseph Vitale, who attended their demonstrations and came out outraged by “sick management strategies”, was inspired to draft two bills.
One (S-4500) requires new nursing home buyers to honor existing union contracts and preserve all employee wages and benefits for at least six months after the sale or after the agreement expires (whichever comes later). It extends the same protections to non-union members.
Vitale has met with people in the industry (including Complete Care CEO Sam Stein), so he already knows their main objection is a variation of, “Following the last owner’s model is suicide, so we have to reduce employee costs. “
It therefore requires operators of retirement homes to prove it: a second bill (S-2759) requires them to disclose their financial statements, as well as the statements of Medicaid costs.
These are logical steps that will help protect workers, agrees Richard Mollot, Chairman of the Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC), a nonprofit advocacy group that documents industry staffing levels.
“Operators who maximize profits tend to cut staff and benefits to lower costs of care,” Mollot said. “In a state where surveillance is weak, like New Jersey, this is an easy thing for operators to do with impunity. “
Vitale knows the industry is “broken,” in part because the state’s low Medicaid reimbursement rate can’t keep up with operating costs – not when three in four nursing home residents are on Medicaid .
Andy Aronson of the Hospital Care Association, the trade association that represents nursing homes, says it’s simple math: payers, the public.
It’s a discussion Vitale welcomes, and he issues this blunt challenge to his colleagues: “I mean, put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “If we want to prove that we truly value our seniors, we make sure their caregivers are well paid, well trained and well treated. The legislature must intervene, and the industry too.
These two bills, which have been considered by committees of both houses, are the good starting points. Nursing home workers – and our seniors – deserve at least that.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today To NJ.com.
Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Facebook Reviews.
Tell us your coronavirus storieswhether it’s a hot tip, a topic you want us to cover, or a personal story you want to share.