"We are in jeopardy every day we go into work:" Nursing home employees protest dangerous work conditions

September 4, 2020

by Amanda Castro, Click Orlando 6

MAITLAND, Fla. – Employees of Florida’s largest nursing home company are protesting dangerous work conditions a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted restrictions on visitations to long-term care facilities.

Members of the 1199 Service Employees International Union marched and chanted through the front doors of Consulate Health Care. Consulate is the state’s largest nursing home company.

Amy Runkle works as a certified nursing assistant at a facility in Venice. She said they’re demanding change because they work in dangerous conditions.

“We are in jeopardy every day that we go into work. Our families practically beg us when we’re walking out the door not to go to work cause they’re so afraid we’re going to give it to them,” Runkle said.

The protestors are calling on the company’s new chief operating officer to meet with them to discuss what it is like working on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic. They also want to speak to Secretary Mary Mayhew of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

Darell Butler works as a certified nursing assistant at a facility in South Daytona. He said they don’t have enough personal protective equipment to do their job.

“We don’t have the adequate PPE equipment and even though we may have some PPE equipment, it’s low-grade PPE or none at best,” Butler said.

The protestors also want higher wages and hazard pay. They said they are essential employees and put themselves at risk every time they go to work.

Runkle adds they love their jobs, but they want safer working conditions.

“We love our residents and we are committed to taking care of those residents as best as possible with what they’re giving us to do. We’re doing as best as possible,” she said.

News 6 contacted Consulate Health Care for comment, but we haven’t heard back yet.

The protest comes a day after Gov. DeSantis lifted visitor restrictions to long-term care facilities and nursing homes on Tuesday.

Carol Bunning’s husband is at a long term care memory center in The Villages. She said the long wait to see him again is almost over.

“I know he’s been lonely and all of the residents are like that. They miss their loved ones,” Bunning said.

Bunning said the facility is preparing for visitors as early as next Tuesday.

DeSantis said there will be limitations to the visits. Visitors will be required to wear masks, get temperature checks, schedule appointments to visit their loved ones, facilities can’t allow visitors unless 14 days pass without new positive cases, and minors aren’t allowed to visit.

Bunning said these rules are worth it knowing she will reunite with her husband soon.

“We still have to go through the weekend. We have to be patient, but it’s hard. I can’t wait to go in,” she said.

However, nursing home workers believe it is too soon to open these facilities to workers. They said they’re worried this could cause more cases.

I understand it, believe me. I see these people cry for their families every day,” Runkle said. “But I also see them being put on gurneys sent out the back door. I’ve also seen my fellow coworkers get sick, go out, and actually die.”