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Economy & Business

Nursing Home Staff Say Conditions Are Bleak, Hope Union Negotiations Bring Higher Staffing Levels

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Sarah Boden
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90.5 WESA
Nursing home workers rally for better working conditions near the Beaver Valley Heathcare and Rehabilitation Center on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.

More than a dozen nursing home workers gathered on the side of a winding, rural road outside the Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehab Center on Tuesday afternoon to protest working conditions at the facility.

Georgetown Road in Beaver Falls doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but the demonstration was one of many taking place across Pennsylvania.

“No better time than contract season,” said nurse’s aide Dawn Trufley. According to SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, some 4,500 nursing home staff at more than 80 facilities across the state will negotiate new union contracts this year.

Beaver Valley is a 120-bed facility owned by Guardian Healthcare, which operates more than 60 skilled nursing facilities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. At the Beaver Valley location, a new nursing aid, working full time, earns just over $30,000 a year. Staff say this results in understaffing, which creates dangerous and bleak working conditions.

nursing home workers rally
Sarah Boden

“If somebody did fall, who knows how long they’re going to lay there until somebody gets to them?” said licensed practical nurse Melanie Vion, who has been at Beaver Valley for 24 years.

Voin and many others said when they started working at Beaver Valley things were much different. But over the years conditions have gotten worse.

“I leave here and feel guilty,” said a visibly emotional nursing aide Patricia Cresanto. “I wouldn’t put anyone in a nursing home that I love.”

Staff like Cresanto and Trufley, who have both worked at Beaver Valley for over a decade, attend to the basic needs of residents. That includes bathing, toileting, feeding and dressing.

Because the resident-to-staff ratio is so great, Trufley said she often can only do the bare minimum for her patients. She said sometimes a person’s nails might go uncut or they might not receive a shower, and that residents’ psychological and social needs often go by the wayside.

“[For example] maybe just a little bit of card playing with a lady that has dementia. Because she may not know who I am, but she remembers that card game,” said Trufley. “I don’t have time with 16 residents to take care of.”

Crestanto said that a lot of staff left the facility after the start of the pandemic. This created a situation where people dying of COVID-19 were mostly alone during their final days.

“We wanted to sit with them, be with them, cause their family couldn’t. But we didn’t have time,” said said. “We knew that we needed to be in there with that resident, but we had seven more waiting for us.”

State data show that 10 Beaver Valley residents have died from COVID. Another 72 residents and 39 staff were infected with the virus.

When contacted for a response to employees’ concerns, Beaver Valley’s owner Guardian Healthcare said, “Our team collaborates daily with leaders at Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehabilitation about staffing and hiring more people who are dedicated to providing quality patient care. Our caregivers remain our top priority as we continue to support the care they provide to residents and patients.”

In addition to Guardian raising pay and increasing staffing levels, Beaver Valley’s unionized staff want state regulations updated so as to increase the amount of mandatory time residents receive in direct care. Currently it's 2.7 hours a day, many say that should increase to 4.1 hours.

Also, the union wants state laws to demand more transparency when a nursing home is sold, as well as accountability on the part of management to show that money that’s paid to take care of a resident actually goes to their care.