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Living Wage and Short-Staffing

Published on June 27th, 2020

WGBH News reported a disturbing but not surprising fact–we do not pay nursing home certified nurse aides enough.  PERIOD.

WGBH found a CNA named Shanna LaFountain who has been a nursing assistant for 20 years, but about two months ago, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, she stopped working. LaFountain, who has three children, said she made the decision once her children’s schools closed.

“I feel guilty. It eats me away,” she said. “It was an extremely hard decision to make. “The school was calling and emailing me constantly. My son was not answering teachers, not doing assignments. It was just too much. I had to be home with my children,” she said.

Instead of working, she gets unemployment benefits, and she receives $600 extra per week from the federal government on top of typical state unemployment benefits. She is making more now than when she works.

LaFountain is not alone. As part of the CARES Act, the federal government added an extra $600 per week to individuals’ unemployment checks. That means that most CNAs in nursing homes make more by collecting unemployment than they would by working, and some worry that is incentivizing workers to stay home.  Experts say nursing homes and long-term care facilities — which account for 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the country — are among the industries most critically affected by this phenomenon. Many certified nursing assistants like LaFountain, who would make more money staying home, say the rates for their work don’t match the risks.

Facilities are battling short-staffing because some staff are required to quarantine after being exposed to the virus, others are going to neighboring states where they can make higher wages, and still others are staying home and collecting unemployment.  Short-staffing causes neglect and abuse.  The understaffing makes it particularly harder for nursing homes and long-term care facilities to implement the protocol necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

The industry should provide a decent wage so unemployed workers choose to come to work in the healthcare industry.  In a typical nursing home, he said, about two-thirds of the workforce are CNAs. They are often the ones with the closest relationship with patients, who can recognize early signs of health problems in residents and are trained in infection control procedures.

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