Florida Caregivers Launch Campaign

September 21, 2021

“We are essential. Treat us like heroes.”

FloridaLTC.jpgLong term care workers across Florida who have been on the front lines of the pandemic are uniting through their union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, to call on government officials and nursing homeowners to better protect and fully fund nursing homes.

Through the “We Are Essential, Treat Us Like Heroes” campaign, caregivers are putting a spotlight on these and other critical issues that leave nursing home residents and workers at risk, including unsafe staffing and high turnover due to low wages.

“I love my job. That’s why I have been a caregiver for 45 years,” said Blanche Norwood, a CNA at a Miami nursing home. “But it’s getting more and more difficult to be there for each and every resident, because there aren’t enough qualified staff. Many caregivers have left the job because they can’t survive on poverty wages.”

The average hourly wage for a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is about $12 per hour. That’s about $25,000 per year—which is less than the federal poverty level for a family of four.

“It’s unconscionable that nursing home workers, who put themselves at risk every day during this pandemic to care for loved ones don’t make enough to provide for their own families,” said Roxey Nelson, Vice President and Director of Politics and Strategic Campaigns at 1199SEIU, the largest healthcare union in Florida. “This has a ripple effect, because low wages lead to high turnover, and that impacts staffing levels and ultimately the quality of care.”

A new law allowing personal care attendants (PCAs) to stand in the void for CNAs could make matters worse, says Nelson, because PCAs have inadequate training, and they can’t perform all of the critical tasks that a CNA does. But PCAs still count toward the standard of 2.5 staff per patient.

“Wouldn’t you prefer experienced staff caring for your grandmother or parent?” asked Nelson.

Short staffing and low wages have been widespread problems in Florida nursing homes long before the pandemic. The health crisis exposed just how critical these issues are and the impact they have on the lives of residents and workers. The COVID-19 pandemic also revealed how committed, essential and heroic nursing home workers have been through it all, answering the call of duty, despite their risk of exposure to this life-threatening virus.

“The name of our campaign – “We Are Essential, Treat Us Like Heroes”—is fitting because these dedicated and brave caregivers deserve both accolades and a living wage so they can take care of their families,” explained Nelson. “As these workers prepare to bargain for new contracts this year, we’re calling on their employers to invest in their employees because quality care starts with caregivers.”

1199 Magazine | July - August 2021