CT nursing home workers join national campaign for better wages and conditions


There are times when her shift is so busy and the facility is so understaffed that Liz Diaz says it takes her two hours to get a drink for a resident of the West Haven nursing home where she work.

“There are more falls,” said Diaz, a certified nursing assistant at Apple Rehab in West Haven. “People are not getting the proper care. Everyone is very busy. We complete one task after another. It’s so fast that there’s no time to spend with the residents – and I really don’t like that.

Diaz was among hundreds of nursing home workers across the state and country who picketed their workplaces Wednesday afternoon to demand raises, better benefits and more protections for residents during a national day of action to launch a campaign to demand industry change.

The pandemic has exposed gaps in care that nursing homes have grappled with for years, according to officials from the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU and parent union SEIU which encompasses organizations in across the United States and Puerto Rico.

“The status quo in our retirement homes is not working — not for workers, not for residents, not for families,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. “As the nation seeks to move beyond COVID-19, nursing home workers and residents face a system on the brink of collapse.”

Executives at Apple Rehab offices did not return phone calls and emails on Wednesday.

Black and brown women make up the majority of nursing home staff who have continued to care for residents even as the industry struggles, Henry said.

“That’s why workers are now taking action across the country to demand that care home workers are respected, protected and paid a living wage,” Henry added.

The New England Health Care Employees Union was able to negotiate raises, cheaper health care premiums and retirement benefits for employees at approximately 60 nursing homes throughout Connecticut with the help of funding from the state, union spokesman Pedro Zayas said.

But the three Apple Rehab nursing homes in West Haven, Rocky Hill and Uncasville, which are represented by the union, did not apply for public funding, Zayas said. That means health care and retirement benefits for workers in these homes weren’t enacted in the same way as other homes that applied for and received state funding, Zayas said.

“We are very pleased that Connecticut has taken significant steps to improve these jobs,” Zayas said. “But it’s unfortunate that we still have operators who refuse to do the right thing for these workers.”

Diaz and Stephanie Booth, a licensed practical nurse at Apple Rehab in Uncasville, face daily challenges due to understaffing at their facilities, the two women said. “We do the work of five people,” Booth said.

“We are looking for a salary increase because we have a serious staffing crisis,” Booth said. “We can’t bring anyone in because of the salary.”

The pandemic has resulted in staffing shortages that are impacting resident care, Diaz said. Her facility lost a lot of residents to COVID-19, “which was heartbreaking,” she said.

But after months of work during the pandemic, staff are so critical that it’s become difficult to properly care for residents, Diaz said.

“I didn’t get into this business to see this stuff,” she says. “I became an assistant to help these people.”

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