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Local News

Pa. Rep. Meets With Nursing Home Workers Who Say They’re Fighting a Staffing Crisis


by Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 27, 2023

U.S. Rep Chris Deluzio says he hopes a recent roundtable with nursing home workers in Beaver County will help move the conversation about nursing home staffing shortages forward, and push Congress to act on President Joe Biden’s federal reforms. 

The freshman Congressman was among those who signed on to a letter earlier this month from U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett D-Texas, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). 

It urged the establishment of “robust nursing home staffing standards to ensure residents receive comprehensive, quality care” to ensure workers have adequate staffing and support. 

“Every family in Pennsylvania deserves to have safe, reliable care for folks who need it,” Deluzio, D-17th District, told the group who gathered Saturday at a union hall in Beaver.

 “We expect there to be 4 million older Pennsylvanians —a third of the population—by 2030. There are going to be people that need this care that you and your co- workers provide. This is a crisis that exists now and will continue to get worse if we don’t do some of the things I think we need to talk about today,” he said.

Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents the workers, said they’ve been raising the alarms around the care crisis even before the pandemic 

“So we’ve had a systematic problem in the way in which we treat our seniors and folks with disabilities in the Commonwealth going across the country pre-COVID,” he said.

The state introduced new rules requiring higher staffing level ratios that take effect in July. The workers and SEIU want to take the state effort to the national level.

For their part, the workers said they were concerned about how understaffing was affecting patients’ care. They described scenarios where they had to care for dozens of patients per shift, an unreasonable ratio that results in less attention for each patient.

“We used to be able to curl someone’s hair, blow dry their hair after a shower … but now you just don’t have time to do that,” said Shelly Houk, a certified nursing assistant who’s worked at a nursing home in Beaver for 24 years. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Shelina Clarit, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at an Aliquippa facility for more than 20 years, said on a recent day last week, the ratio was one caregiver to 26 patients. Overnights can be even worse, she added, because there aren’t usually enough workers to staff a second shift. 

“What if something was to happen in that building, a fire, or god forbid, a bad emergency?” Clarit said. “What would she do? She’s in there by herself with probably 50 people.”

And, the caregivers said, the patients’ families don’t always have a clear picture of what’s going on. 

“What if it was my mother, or your mother? The families look at us as if this is one on one care, it’s far from one on one care,” said Renee Ford, a CNA who’s been at her facility for more than 35 years and said she’s never seen such bad worker shortages.

 “We look like the bad guy because we can’t answer their mother’s bell in five minutes because we’re down the hall in another room. You’ve got people with mental disorders … it’s just too much,” Ford said. 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.