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Nursing home employees stage pickets to seek state reforms for facilities

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Unions representing nursing home employees are urging Albany lawmakers to support reforms that, they say, would create greater transparency among operators, and require more investment back into staffing and direct care. Pickets and silent vigils were held at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across New York State Thursday to raise awareness and support.

Governor Cuomo has already hinted at reforms he'd like to see at for-profit nursing homes in the next state budget. Marshall Bertram, administrative organizer for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East detailed some of them while appearing at an informational picket at the Weinberg Campus in Amherst.

“There's a requirement that facilities spend a certain amount of the revenue on staffing and on direct resident care,” he said. “There are certain requirements that for-profit owners that run low one-star facilities are not able to buy more facilities, which has been a problem in the past, that bad nursing home owners could just keep perpetuating that by purchasing more facilities.”

Bertram says the Weinberg Campus, operating as a non-profit, has been an example of a good facility, adding that management and the union are nearing completion of a new contract. But he and others add that its sale to Elderwood is nearing completion, and they're concerned about how the transition from non-profit to for-profit.

Darlene Gates, a home care worker at Weinberg, says even they have been made to stretch their duties and feel more stress, especially amid the COVID pandemic.

“We've been made to wear many different hats, not able to give that our residents the quality care that they should receive or deserve," she said. "And when I say many hats, we've been the social worker, to housekeeper, and the same with different departments, the cooks, what have you.”

Cuomo is facing increasing scrutiny for his administration's handling of COVID in nursing homes, and how it counted and reported deaths early in the pandemic. Bertram called on two of Cuomo's critics, State Senators Rob Ortt and Edward Rath, to "put their money where their mouth is" and back nursing home reforms.

“We want to provide a system in New York State that holds owners accountable, that makes sure we have the care hours that residents need to feel at home to feel safe and to be taken care of,” he said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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