Understaffing, Unsafe Conditions in Nursing Homes Lead to Worker Protests in California

Poll found half of California nursing home workers were prepared to leave their jobs within the next 12 months due to understaffing and unsafe conditions.

With more than 238,000 jobs lost nationwide since the start of the pandemic, the nursing home industry has experienced devastatingly low staffing levels and high turnover at many facilities, resulting in severe drops in the quality of care able to be provided to long term care residents by a dwindling number of beleaguered nursing home workers who feel they are understaffed and underpaid.

In California, close to 10,000 nursing home residents and staff lives have been lost during the pandemic. Employees of the state’s nursing homes and members of the Service Employees International Union Local 2015 (SEIU 2015), which represents many of them, took to the streets on Monday to protest the poor working conditions, low wages, and unsafe staffing levels that have significantly worsened since the beginning of the pandemic, and which could contribute to problems with nursing home neglect.

Protests were held at long-term care facilities across California and at the state capitol building, and included nursing home workers, union members, and Democratic lawmakers who wished to bring attention to the declining conditions for nursing home workers and residents.

The protests come on the heels of a recent poll involving more than 400,000 nursing home and home care employees represented by SEIU 2015, which found that half of the nursing home workers were likely to leave their current positions within the next 12 months, citing low wages and decimated staffing levels as the top two concerns; along with an overall feeling of being undervalued by their employers.

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In an industry characterized by decades of understaffing problems, nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the U.S. truly felt the impact of Covid-19, with nursing home residents and staff accounting for nearly 25% of the total Covid-19 related deaths.

Problems with nursing home understaffing is common and a well-documented issue at facilities nationwide.

This can increase the risk of serious risks for residents, including nursing home malnutrition as workers struggle to get meals delivered on time, the prevalence of nursing home bedsores due to workers being unavailable to help residents get to the bathroom or properly clean them after accidents, as well as failing to turn and position immobile residents.

The negative effect of understaffing on nursing home quality of care is not limited to the state of California, but felt throughout the country. These problems were exacerbated by the pandemic as nursing homes, historically understaffed and lacking sufficient infectious disease protocols, were sorely underprepared for the issues imposed by a worldwide pandemic.

Nursing home staffing levels plummeted during the pandemic due to employees succumbing to Covid-19 or becoming burn-out attempting to provide care for their residents with a greatly decreased staff. Many nursing home workers, seeing the sharp rise in workload without accompanying increase in pay, simply quit for other, higher-paying jobs, leaving those who stayed pulling multiple shifts to try and make up for the staffing deficiency.

A recent study on nursing home staffing levels published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that employee shortages at nursing homes and assisted living facilities was one of the top contributing factors associated with COVID-19 cases and deaths between January 1, 2020 and June 15, 2021.

In February, the White House released a fact sheet detailing the need to improve the safety and quality of care in nursing homes across the country. Chief among the issues listed was the importance of sufficient staffing in nursing homes.

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