TRENTON— Some 300 nursing home workers, members of 1199SEIU, were joined by key legislators at the state capitol on May 1 in rallying for passage of a bill creating minimum caregiver-to-patient ratios in nursing homes.
The march kicked off at the Patriot’s Theater at the War Memorial and ended in front of the Statehouse, where legislators addressed the crowd and workers shared testimonies of working short-staffed.
"This legislation is important to ensure that nursing homes meet basic standards for safe staffing, to protect quality care for New Jersey seniors,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “In recent years, the legislature has acted to increase Medicaid funding for our state’s nursing home industry...At the end of the day, there is an expectation that facilities invest these significant taxpayer dollars into improving their direct-care workforce."
New Jersey nursing homes rank among the worst in the nation (45th overall) for the staffing levels of certified nursing assistants (CNAs), according to data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CNAs are the primary direct care workforce in nursing homes and are responsible for assisting patients will all their activities of daily living—feeding, dressing, bathing, etc.
Without sufficient frontline staff, caregivers say that patients are put at risk and workers are unable to provide the type of physical and emotional support their patients need every day.
NJ nursing homes are largely for-profit and the industry receives most of its revenue from Medicaid and Medicare. Advocates say that nursing homes must use this taxpayer money appropriately by investing it towards improving frontline care.
Bill S1612/A382 would establish minimum CNA-to-patient ratios in NJ nursing homes as follows: no more than 8 patients per CNA on the day shift, 10 patients per CNA on the afternoon shift, and 16 patients per CNA overnight. An identical bill was passed by the legislature two years ago, but vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in January 2016.
“Nursing home residents and their families need peace of mind that their caregivers are able to devote the time to provide quality care,” said Senator Brian P. Stack. “There is simply no reason why New Jersey’s nursing home industry should be lagging the nation when it comes to ensuring adequate direct care staffing. This bill is long overdue and will improve and enrich the lives of tens of thousands of our state’s most vulnerable people.”
“How we care for the elderly and vulnerable reflects who we are as a society,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “We have an obligation to ensure that New Jerseyans who need 24/7 nursing care receive that care in the most dignified and safe way possible.”
“With better CNA staffing levels, we could improve our patients’ quality of life,” said Claire Wombough, a CNA from Toms River who has worked in her profession for the past 22 years. “Right now, patients are rushed to finish their breakfast, even if they prefer to eat at a slower pace. Many patients need assistance to walk around and would benefit from having more time with a caregiver so they’re not confined to a chair as much. Our patients are human beings, not robots. They should be able to choose the type of lifestyle they want.”
“One night I was the only CNA on a floor with 50 residents,” said Josefina Jimenez, a CNA from Passaic. “I knew that one of my residents was close to dying, and I wanted to comfort her in her final moments because she did not have anyone else. With all of my other responsibilities, by the time I made it to her room she had already passed away. It was heartbreaking.”
“So much has changed since I started working as a CNA,” said Margaret Boyce, a CNA from Elizabeth. “In 2002, I had six to eight residents to care for each day. Now that number has grown to fifteen, sometimes twenty. This affects our patients in so many ways—for example, instead of getting a bath every day, they get just two a week.”
“Overwhelming workloads hurt our residents and affect our own wellbeing,” said Tyshara Bonaparte, a CNA from Jersey City. “It’s not fair to a resident when their food gets cold before a CNA is able to feed them, or when they have to wait in a soiled diaper because their CNA is too busy with another patient. It breaks my heart when I hear the urgency in a patient’s voice that they need assistance, but I’m occupied caring for somebody else.”
“We have a serious, dangerous staffing shortage of direct care workers in New Jersey’s nursing homes, and we need this legislation now,” said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU. “Patients and their caregivers should never be put into a situation where short staffing prevents care delivery in a safe and compassionate way, with respect for patients’ individual choices and their human dignity.”
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in New Jersey and nationwide. We represent over 16,000 healthcare families in New Jersey and over 400,000 total members throughout New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, and Washington, D.C. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.