MEMBER ACTIVISM AVERTS NY HEALTHCARE CRISISJune 16, 2023
Sustained pressure finally forced Governor Hochul to reverse some of her planned cuts.
It took 1199 members four months of intense lobbying in the New York State capital to convince Governor Kathy Hochul to reverse her planned cuts to safety net hospitals and home care wages. The final NYS budget was delayed by more than a month as members kept up the pressure with the support of House Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
In the end, 1199ers won higher wages for home care, as well as policy changes that will even the playing field with nonunion providers and regulate staffing agencies.
Instead of being capped at $18, the home care minimum wage will grow to $19.65 downstate and $18.65 upstate over the next two years—and then be indexed to inflation. Medicaid funding for health care benefits will be dedicated to those employers who actually pro- vide benefits. This means that 1199 employers will be able to offer more competitive wages while still maintaining the Union benefit package.
“I am very proud that we stuck together and made sure that the state recognized our value, so we could get what we deserve,” said Bianca Graniela, a home care member with the Bestcare agency. “I am a hospice aide which means that I am that face, that hand touch, that you see before you draw your last breath. It often feels like our elected officials don’t recognize who we re- ally are. I have looked after doctors, lawyers and even a judge once. I appreciate the fact that the noise we made in Albany seems to have been heard this time.”
In another victory, temporary healthcare staffing agencies will be regulated for the first time, allowing the state to collect key ownership and financial information. This will provide the tools to rein in the “Uberization” of nursing. There is also $120 million in new funding for behavioral health services and $850 million in new capital funds, mostly for supportive housing.
But despite the members’ massive mobilization, a hard push from the legislature and an $8.7 billion surplus, Governor Hochul could not bring herself to make the necessary investments to stabilize our healthcare system after the devastation of the pandemic with suffi- cient increases in Medicaid rates. Healthcare costs have risen by nine percent in recent years because of inflation and a pandemic-driven staffing crisis. The Medicaid rate increase in 2024 will only offset a fraction of these costs, leaving many NYS hospitals and nursing homes in the red.
"If our hospital were to close it would create a healthcare desert in Brooklyn,” Angela Sanchez, 1199 RN at Brookdale Hospital in Brook- lyn told an Albany rally in April. “We see patients on the worst days of their lives. The need for health- care is growing, but the budget is shrinking. It makes no sense."
Another member warned Governor Hochul that staffing levels in nursing homes were well below what they need to be. Mary Samaroo-Ali, and LPN at Queens Nassau Nursing Home, said: “We need to find a way of closing the Medicaid Gap once and for all.”