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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:16:32 PM CST

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Lauren Cook/MEDILL

Nursing home  resident goes out in Lincoln Park.

Nursing home residents at risk as staffing shortages continue, workers say

by Lauren Cook
Oct 31, 2012


Lauren Cook/MEDILL

Yolanda Morris is a 14-year nursing home veteran; she assists residents with their grooming, feeding and range of motion exercises.


Lauren Cook/MEDILL

Tanya Pugh-Rizer participated in the recent picketing because she said  the care of her residents will continue to decline without a fairer contract.

Lauren Cook/MEDILL

Pugh-Rizer discusses how a staffing shortage impacts resident care and how it drove her to participate in a state-wide picket earlier this month.

The quality of care for nursing home residents is suffering under a shortage of staff that workers say is caused by the hard work and low wages.

Nursing home workers hope to address this shortage, among a variety of other issues, in their new contract. To plead their case, nearly 2,000 workers participated in two hours of picketing at 50 facilities across the state in October, including Rainbow Beach Nursing Center in South Shore and LakeShore Care Centre in Rogers Park.

“We’ve been in contract negotiations since October of 2011,” said Tanya Pugh-Rizer, a certified nursing assistant at The Grove in Lincoln Park and 31-year veteran of the nursing home industry.

“Issues are coming from the short staffing,” she said. “We’re not retaining the staff that we have, which doesn’t enable us to give the quality care that the residents deserve.”

According to the Service Employees International Union, the average starting salary for its workers in nursing homes is $9.20 an hour. The average hourly wage for all SEIU employees in nursing homes is $10.99.

The yearly salary for a CNA in the state of Illinois is $22,920, as estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In contract negotiations, nursing home owners offered workers a 5-cent wage increase, provided they give up one of their five vacation days, said a spokesman for the SEIU, which is representing the workers.

The ratio of residents to CNAs should be 5:1, Morris said, but it is more likely you will find a single CNA providing care for upwards of 17 residents. This does not comply with staffing regulations that the state of Illinois passed in 2010.

Nursing home owners are aware of these regulations, said Pugh-Rizer, but have failed to apply them in their facilities.

“We’re hoping that in this contract we can get them to follow what has been regulated by the state,” she said.

With the staff shortages, the remaining workers are left with too many residents and not enough time to provide the necessary care for each, Pugh-Rizer said.

“How can I give Ms. Ford two hours and 25 minutes of quality care when I have 16 other residents to attend to?” asked Yolanda Morris, a CNA at Cedar Pointe Rehab and Nursing in Cicero.

It is also typical of a facility to ask its CNAs to perform extra duties. Morris said she is often asked to cover shifts in the dietary department or take residents out to make up for a missing escort.

“They might pull the housekeeper and put them in dietary. Or they’ll pull somebody from dietary to work in the laundry,” Pugh-Rizer said.

“It’s just the frugalness of the owners … if you can get someone to do three peoples’ work for the price of one, why hire someone?”

For these reasons, the people who would normally apply for work in nursing homes are instead seeking medical assistant positions or going back to school to get their nursing degree, Morris said.

If contract negotiations between workers and members of the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities remain unresolved, it is possible that the remaining employees will also seek opportunities elsewhere, Pugh-Rizer and Morris said.

Alden Debes Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Rockford is a member of the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities and was one of nearly 50 picket sites earlier this month.

Multiple calls and emails to Alden Debes’ parent company, Alden Management Services, as well as the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities, were not returned.

However, following the October picketing, Alden Management Services released this statement on the contract negotiations:

“The association has been negotiating with the union in good faith to renew the contract. We are disheartened by the picketing and inflammatory comments made by the union in an effort to disrupt the ongoing negotiations. Alden wants to assure our residents and the community that we will continue to provide quality care and services during the ongoing talks."

For Pugh-Rizer and Morris, quality care can only continue if association members agree to reinvest the $50.5 million they received in profits last year back into their facilities.

By offering a competitive wage and increasing the number of staff on duty, they said, owners would not only ensure the satisfaction of their employees, but also the safety of their residents.