Pennsylvania nursing home workers who are part of the Service Employees International Union have threatened to strike if their demands for pay raises and affordable health care benefits are not met. The union members who might strike include licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, dietary workers, housekeepers, and maintenance workers -- all vitally important to proper nursing home patient care. This is a labor issue, but as a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I know staffing levels and conditions are a very important part of safety for nursing home patients. For the sake of patients as well as the others involved, I hope that a strike is averted.
The nursing home staff members are all employees of homes owned by Extendicare, including Spruce Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in West Reading, PA; Slate Belt Nursing and Rehab Center in Bangor, PA; Broad Mountain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Frackville, PA; and Beaver Valley Nursing and Rehab in Beaver Falls, PA. They complain that pay raises in their current contract don't keep up with the cost of living. This issue directly affects nursing home patients' lives, because underpaid and overworked nursing home staff members make serious mistakes in patient care. Studies consistently show that undertrained staff members are more likely to make mistakes or actively abandon good practices. Many of the abuses that nursing home patients experience can be traced to low staffing levels or insufficient attention to the quality of the staff, both of which can be caused by a nursing home company's desire to ramp up profits by cutting labor costs. For example, failure to read and follow a patient's treatment plan, or failure to respond to emergencies in time to help patients, can result from a small staff being stretched too thin. As I discussed recently, this can have tragic results.
Extendicare made over $17 million in profits last year in Pennsylvania, a profit that SEIU said rose by over 50% from the 2008 number. Christine Peters, part of the SEIU bargaining committee and a certified nursing assistant, said, "We want to make sure that some of these profits (go to) improving staffing for our residents and good job standards for caregivers." As a Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorney, I applaud this sentiment. Nursing home companies that privilege profits over patient care inevitably put patients' lives and well being in danger. The threat of a strike may ultimately help patients as well as the staff members live better lives.