Living Wages Increases Safety
If we paid nursing home caregivers a living wage would that increase safety?
“As a country, we need to pay for what we value,” consultant Ellen Bartoldus told SNN. “We say we value elders, we say we value value good staff but we’re defining this good staff as unskilled labor. It’s mostly brown and black women that are providing that care. We don’t pay them a living wage. They have to work two jobs in order to survive, and then we expect an incredible quality of care from them — and we’re not willing to really pay for what we say we value.”
Across the United States, more than 82,000 nursing home residents and staff members died from Covid-19. Over 40 percent of the nation’s coronavirus fatalities. Public health experts identified staff members working at multiple facilities as a major risk factor for the virus’s lightning surge through nursing homes. Nursing homes struggle with safe staffing.
Employees working at more than one facility contributed to the first coronavirus outbreak in a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With higher wages for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and other frontline caregivers, employees might not have needed to take shifts across multiple facilities.
Nursing homes with unionized workforces had lower mortality rates from COVID-19. Union caregivers have greater access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and lower COVID-19 infection rates. A new study released September 10 in the journal Health Affairs shows that union workers are safer than non-union counterparts.
The National Bureau of Economic Research found that 7 percent of phones appeared in multiple facilities. Most nursing home have staff connections with 15 other facilities. “Eliminating staff linkages between nursing homes” could reduce infections by 44 percent. The strict ban on visitations and testing of residents doesn’t help if staff are spreading the virus.
Spreading the Virus
New outbreaks emerge because staff members who travel from one facility to another are weak links. Health experts say that poorly paid staff members working two or more nursing home jobs are significant contributors to the spread of the virus.
“Unfortunately, staff have been the largest vector towards bringing Covid into nursing homes around the country,” David Grabowski. He is a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, said.
“What our research is suggesting is that the real culprit here, epidemiologically, appears to be shared staff,” said Keith Chen. He is professor of behavioral economics at U.C.L.A. School of Management and a lead author of the report.
“There’s a tremendous number of staffing agencies that spring up to spread workers across nursing homes,” he said.
Nursing home experts say that spread of the disease can be exacerbated by low pay scales that force nurses and aides to seek work at more than one facility.
“We don’t value this work force, and if we paid them a full-time position or a living wage, they wouldn’t have to do all this moonlighting across facilities,” Dr. Grabowski of Harvard said.
Improving staff pay and morale is one part of the necessary reform steps to improve safety and quality of care..