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Take Care of the Caregivers

Published on May 22nd, 2020

NBC News reported that front-line workers are fearful of retaliation for notifying families of positive coronavirus test results. Most caregivers believe nursing home owners, operators, and managers have not done enough to protect and compensate the staff as they face life-threatening risks on a daily basis, sometimes for minimum wage. Certified nursing aides are in close physical contact with residents all day, lifting them in and out of bed, helping them use the toilet and brush their teeth, and feeding them meals.

Service Employees International Union have supported caregivers asking for higher pay, more hires to relieve staffing shortages, and more personal protective equipment. In response, the nursing home management threatens to call the police and fire the staff.

Long before nursing homes became a breeding ground for the coronavirus, aides have faced harsh working conditions for low wages with staffing shortages, according to nursing home workers, advocates and industry experts.

Despite promises to protect these workers and the vulnerable residents they care for, the federal government does not require nursing homes to inform staff members about coronavirus infections or deaths, and the Department of Labor does not require any workplaces to follow coronavirus guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nursing homes have struggled for months to provide enough personal protective equipment for employees and COVID-19 tests for both residents and staff members, often getting second priority to hospitals.  According to data collected by NBC News, at least half of the 100,000 known coronavirus deaths in the United States are linked to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Several workers who spoke to NBC News say their management has been unresponsive to their concerns — in some cases allegedly retaliating against staff members for speaking up, which would violate federal labor law — and has withheld the most basic information about coronavirus cases and deaths.

Federal oversight of these hazardous workplaces is limited. New federal rules do not require nursing homes to inform their own staff members about cases — even though employees have the most direct and potentially dangerous contact with infected residents. And the data reported to the federal government won’t be posted publicly until June, according to the agency.

CMS said in an email that all nursing homes are required to have infection control plans and “would inherently need to inform staff about cases of COVID-19 in the facility” to implement them effectively. The agency’s inspectors are currently focused on infection control and problems that place residents in “immediate jeopardy.”

“OSHA has disappeared — nobody has these workers’ back,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official under the Obama administration. “They are not enforcing the CDC guidelines. Employers can follow them or ignore them, and there are no consequences.”

OSHA had received more than 310 complaints about staff exposure to COVID-19 in nursing homes as of April 28. The agency also received reports of 47 staff deaths from the coronavirus in nursing homes, as well as 120 whistleblower complaints from nursing home employees since mid-February, the Labor Department said.

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