SOUTH BEAVER TWP. – Rose Conforti has been employed at the Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehab Center for 34 years.

With more than three decades under her belt at the center, currently working as a dietary aide, she said the facility has been almost unrecognizable since the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in 13,258 deaths of residents of long-term care facilities in statewide since last March. year. In Beaver County, 1,111 residents of long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19 with at least 274 staff members. Of those residents, 223 died from the virus.

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Conforti is not alone in her frustration. She, along with many others in nursing homes across the state, on Tuesday sparked a protest at 41 nursing facilities across the state, demanding better staffing, increased wages and protections for the residents.

Staff members are overworked and underpaid, Conforti of South Beaver Township said, and nursing home residents feel the brunt of it.

“There aren’t enough workers, not enough people on the ground,” she said. “We are rushing from here to there.”

Most caregivers feed, bathe, dress and groom nursing home residents on a daily basis. According to Shirley Peoples, a certified nurse assistant at the center, sometimes more than 20 residents are on a floor with only one or two staff to provide care.

The facility is currently packed with residents, Peoples said, leaving only a few beds open and not enough staff to handle the load.

“Some days there’s one person in a room with up to 22 (residents),” Peoples of Darlington said. “You are ready to pull your hair out for a few days.”

‘Better staffing’ could be difficult amid pandemic

At Tuesday’s protest, many held up signs that read “better staffing,” illustrating the need for more staff. But some employees said the number of unemployed in the state actually makes it difficult to recruit more people.

As of March 2021, 461,514 Pennsylvanians were unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is, however, significantly lower than the same period last year. As of May 2020, 862,639 people were unemployed in the state, a decrease of almost half.

“With so many people out of work right now, that would be a good opportunity to find a job. But Biden is giving the big unemployment check, so why should they come to work?” said Shanon Givens, a temporary nursing assistant who helps in nursing floors.

“It’s up to lawmakers,” said Dawn Trufley, certified nursing assistant at Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehab Center. “When they make more with unemployment than the $ 14.65 they start here, what are you going to do?”

Signs stood on the grass outside the Beaver Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center, where staff gathered outside the facility on Tuesday, demanding better staffing, a increased wages and protections for residents.

Trufley of Midland said better wages create better staffing.

Some employees question the starting salary, saying fast food and other restaurants pay the same and are less physically demanding. Perhaps many of the unemployed are more likely to remain unemployed, employees said, or to take an easier job that pays more.

“We deserve better pay for what we do,” Peoples said.

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Wages are among the many topics that nursing home workers at the International Union of Service Employees (SEIU) hope to bring up in contract negotiations. About 4,500 nursing home workers at more than 80 facilities that are part of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania are negotiating new union contracts this year.

“The nursing home crisis has crossed a tipping point,” said Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, who began his career more than 20 years ago as a certified nursing assistant. . “More than 13,000 people have died and tens of thousands of caregivers have fallen ill. It couldn’t be clearer that we cannot take care of our seniors and people with disabilities if we continue to have a profit and bottom line health care system. We need patient and resident centered care, we need to value and invest in the workforce so that we have enough caregivers to do this life-saving work, and industry and politicians need to act now. No more excuses. “

Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehab Center staff gathered outside the facility on Tuesday, demanding better staffing, increased salaries and protections for residents.  Shanon Givens from Eastern Palestine is in the center.

COVID-19 and free time

Workers at the center said workers with COVID-19 were to stay at home in quarantine for 10 to 14 days, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time.

Employees had to use their paid vacation first. After all of their time was up, they might not be paid for the remaining days or apply for work or unemployment.

When Conforti tested positive for COVID-19, she had to use her remaining eight days of vacation and then applied for work.

“They’re making us use our (paid) time for something we haven’t done,” Conforti said.

Trufley said that since the majority of nursing home workers received COVID from work, the center should be responsible for the payment.

“You have to choose not to get paid, or to take your vacation. The problem is if we got it here – obviously – the company should have been required to pay us,” Trufley said. “We could file a claim with the unemployment or the worker, but you get, what, 50% of your salary for the virus we got from a pandemic?”

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As of March 2020, 71,629 residents of long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. According to state data, an additional 15,330 staff members have tested positive and COVID has been present in 1,590 nursing homes, personal care homes and other long-term care facilities.

A physical and mental assessment

The pandemic has not only wreaked physical havoc on employees and residents of state nursing facilities, but also on emotions. Nursing homes have been largely closed to visitors for months, leaving employees to act as both caregivers and loved ones for many residents.

Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehab Center staff gathered outside the facility on Tuesday, demanding better staffing, increased salaries and protections for residents.  The group joined thousands of other nursing home staff across the state.

“We are there as a family. In the last 15 months we are what they have. So when we are just a few we cannot be there for them with the emotional support they deserve.” , said Trufley.

Employees at Beaver Valley Healthcare and Rehab Center, and countless others across the state, say they haven’t left the industry because of their love for residents, despite the challenges.

“We are staying for our residents,” Conforti said. “If we’re not here, no one will take care of them.”

The majority of residents at the center are seniors and Trufley said they deserve to be loved and supported.

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“These people are our past,” Trufley said. “We should be there for them now. They’ve taken are from us. Now it’s our turn, and we’re not doing a very good job.”

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