Friday, August 25, 2023

Nursing Home Workers Rally for Funding Accountability and Improved Care at Shenandoah Manor

In a demonstration of their commitment to the well-being of nursing home residents, workers from Shenandoah Manor converged at the Pennsylvania Anthracite Miners Memorial on East Washington Street on Thursday.

These workers, they say were instrumental in securing a substantial $25.4 million annual state funding boost for Priority Healthcare Group, directed their plea toward the company's management. They emphasized the necessity of channeling taxpayer funds into bolstering staffing levels, a move they argue would significantly improve the quality of care provided to the residents.

Marie Gunderman, a medication technician at Shenandoah Manor, expressed the urgency of the situation, stating, "Priority has an opportunity right now to invest in staff recruitment and retention in our first union contract. We take care of residents like they're our own family. People in this community who work hard and pay the taxes that fund nursing homes should be able to see that money go back into resident care."

The workers, who united under a union last year following Priority Healthcare Group's acquisition of the facility, pinpointed competitive wages and accessible healthcare as pivotal remedies to the prevailing skilled workforce crisis. The negotiations for their contract with the company revolve around securing comprehensive health coverage with reasonable costs.

An illustration of the shortcomings of the current healthcare plan emerged from the stories of Shenandoah Manor workers. 

Having transitioned to Priority's insurance scheme in January, employees say they faced exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medical procedures and treatments. 

One caregiver said she found herself burdened with a staggering $48,000 bill for a hysterectomy, twice her yearly earnings, triggering calls from collection agencies. Another worker opted to forgo insurance due to previous negative experiences with the Priority plan, which left her unable to consult her trusted family physicians.

Joseph Honus, a licensed practical nurse with over two decades of service at Shenandoah Manor, shared his perspective, remarking, "I know for a fact that more people would sign on as staff if Priority raised wages and offered healthcare that was affordable and comprehensive. Agency aides are paid as much as me, a nurse with over 20 years. My recent surgery will probably cost $40,000 with this insurance. That does not encourage people to work here."

In an show of solidarity, families of residents residing at Shenandoah Manor stood shoulder to shoulder with the workers, echoing their call for change. These loved ones stressed the vital role played by in-house staff in providing consistent care to residents, offering a sense of familiarity and deep understanding that agency personnel cannot replicate.

Helen, a family member of a nursing home resident, underscored this sentiment, saying, "These caregivers took care of our loved ones throughout the pandemic. Now we need to take care of them. I was shocked to hear how inadequate these workers' healthcare is."

As Pennsylvania's regulations governing staffing ratios come into effect, concerns surrounding inadequate staffing levels have gained momentum among caregivers and families alike. The imminent announcement of new federal staffing rules by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has further amplified the urgency of the situation. These regulations, coupled with increased funding accountability, aim to ensure that communities like Shenandoah, characterized by a significant elderly population and heightened health risks, have access to top-tier long-term care.

Andy Ulicny, President of the Greater Shenandoah Area Historical Society, encapsulated the collective sentiment, stating, "We need to correct this – smaller people are saying, 'I can't live on these wages. I can't live without health insurance.' Our parents and grandparents fought hard for fairness and labor. We had a coal strike that turned the nation around. It's people like these healthcare workers who care for people who need our support."