CNAs try to mandate minimum staffing levels in Washington State

When reading one of my favorite sites for local updates, the Public News Service, I was reminded about the sad state of affairs for Washington caregivers in the nursing home industry. Washington doesn’t have a state law that spells out minimum staffing levels in nursing homes.  In the 2015 legislative session, nursing home caregivers will continue their battle to implement some basic staffing minimums.

Nursing home workers cite three reasons to mandate minimum staff-to-resident ratios: 1) Better care for nursing home residents, 2) Less turnover for weary staff members, and 3) Greater safety for both groups.

Shelly Hughes has been a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in Washington facilities for five years. She explained that rarely is there enough time or enough staff in place to give residents the care they need. “One of the most heartbreaking things about my job is that I see great, kindhearted, hard-working people leaving,” she says. “Not only my facility, but the industry entirely because they’re so frustrated with the level of care we’re able to give our residents.”

Ms. Hughes says under current conditions, a CNA could be on duty for 15 or 20 residents.  Can you imagine? That ratio is not at all conducive to quality care for nursing home patients. However, Hughes points out that the facilities know in advance when state surveyors are coming to inspect. This is when managers pitch in and there are plenty of people scheduled.

AARP research indicates an annual turnover rate of 52% among nursing home workers in the state. Hughes says SEIU’s proposal would implement staffing rules over a three-year period, and nursing homes would submit monthly staffing reports with payroll records to the state, to confirm that they’re in compliance. She and other caregivers with SEIU Local 775 have been sharing their stories with Washington lawmakers, and she believes a new state law is a matter of time. “It will take a while, but I haven’t met a legislator yet that disagrees with anything I have to say,” says Hughes. “I think the will is there, we just have to find a way.” She adds, Oregon and California both have direct-care staff requirements for nursing homes. Washington caregivers will make their case at a lobby day in Olympia later this month, January 29. 

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