HARTFORD, Conn — We've talked a lot about the human toll COVID-19 is taking on nursing home residents and their families. Now we want to tell you about the toll it’s taking on nursing home workers. Just like a hospital worker, they are healthcare heroes too. Representing 6,000 workers across 69 nursing homes in CT, SEIU is the largest healthcare Union in the state. They are calling out leaders to do better.
"We will do better," said Gov. Ned Lamont at Wednesday's news conference.
The union says most of their workers are female and African American. It's a population already disproportionately being afflicted by COVID-19. They say the time for talk is over. They need action.
Barbara Cass of the Department of Public Health said, "I want to assure you that the department is working very closely on staffing, looking at infection control standards. We are looking at their availability for PPE and we stand ready to assist as needed."
But SEIU says workers like Sandria Morton of Newington Care Center are being left unprotected. She had to fashion this gown out of a trash bag.
SEIU 1199NE President Rob Baril said, "You’ll see that she does not have any protective shield or covering over her face and this is not uncommon in terms of what nursing home workers are facing. They are being asked by administrators to make their own protective gear."
Paula Cousino, a nurse’s assistant at Apple Rehab in Rocky Hill says a lack of PPE is contributing to staff shortages from sickness. "They leave you on the floor by yourself to deal with all the 26-30 residents at a time and it’s hard. The patients are scared. The staff is scared."
And the numbers are staggering. SEIU says across their union network alone, 500 workers are either infected or isolating. They have staff shortages at 6 facilities. 81 people have died of COVID-19 in CT nursing homes. That represents about a 1/3rd of all the deaths in CT.
"If we die, who is left to take care of the residents?" asked Chelsea Daniels, an LPN at Fresh River Nursing Home in East Windsor. "We shouldn’t have to beg for PPE and we shouldn’t have to beg to be protected. I find it disrespectful, degrading and unappreciative."
SEIU has launched an online petition calling on state leaders to get them PPE.
"We are asking, begging, pleading for PPE. I have been using the same mask for about a week. Wiping it down, sanitizing it. We don’t have staff. We have 2 on the morning shift, 2 on the evening shift. The night shift has 1," explained Eulalie Simasiky, a CNA at Apple Rehab.
At the same time, the Department of Public Health has launched an online complaint portal.
Keep in mind that nursing homes are mostly dealing with low income residents on Medicaid. The state is boosting COVID-related reimbursements by 10%. But workers say it’s only a start and not enough to give people the care they deserve.