In NYS Senate Testimony, LTC Workers Describe an Industry in Crisis

September 13, 2021

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A delegation of 1199SEIU homecare and nursing home members travelled to New York State’s Capitol in Albany, NY on July 27 to give State Senators a first-hand account of the crisis facing workers and patients in New York’s long term care sector—and offer practical solutions for resolving it.

“Before the pandemic we had a lot of vacancies, and now it’s worse. Staff work double shifts, come back to work after catching some sleep, and then can be faced with another double. It’s brutal, and people are getting hurt,” Tonya Blackshear, an 1199 CNA from Utica told the Joint Public Hearing on Nursing Home, Assisted Living and Homecare Workforce, which was convened by New York State Senators Rachel May (D-53), Gustavo Rivera (D-33) and Jessica Ramos (D-13).

A recent report from the City University of New York (CUNY) estimates that 17 percent of home care jobs are currently unfilled and approximately 26,510 new aides need to be hired annually just to keep up with the growing demand for care. In Upstate New York in particular, the wages in nursing homes and home care agencies are often so low that people can earn more working in the fast food industry or by stocking shelves in a supermarket.

“I’d like to work with just one agency, but you really can’t. We are constantly looking for those extra hours we need to get by. I’m usually working for more than one agency at a time and doing per diem work where I can find it,” explained Jason Brooks, an 1199 PCA from Rochester.

“There are lots of reasons why home care workers left during the pandemic, but the biggest reason is the pay did not justify the risks they faced. Fortunately, most stayed because they are incredibly dedicated to the people they care for,” testified Rona Shapiro, 1199SEIU Executive Vice President for Home Care.

“Home care workers did not have the luxury of staying in hotels or taking an Uber to work.

They continued to get on the subway and buses to get to their clients’ homes and many got sick despite their best efforts to protect themselves,” added Shapiro.

“During the pandemic I refused to stay home, knowing my patient needs me and I wanted to be able to provide for my family,” Lilieth Clacken, a home health worker for two major NYC agencies. “My patient cannot be left alone, the importance of me being there is undoubtedly the key to her living a dignified life.”

“There are two paths ahead,” Shapiro told the hearing panel. “One is to build a system of well resourced, union agencies and fiscal intermediaries, which make the investments necessary to recruit and retain dedicated home care workers. The other is to continue to allow profiteers to siphon off desperately needed care dollars to their own pockets.”

1199 Magazine | July - August 2021