SEIU 2015, the nation’s largest long-term care union and California’s largest labor union representing more than 400,000 nursing home and home care workers, released results from its worker poll that highlights an industry in crisis.
COVID has exacerbated a pre-existing staffing shortage in California’s nursing homes, as the underpaid and underprotected care workers are quitting at alarming rates. The nursing home industry has lost more than 420,000 jobs nationwide since the start of the pandemic, as last measured in January 2022. Despite being hailed as heroes during the early months of the pandemic, care workers, majority women of color, do not receive pay, benefits or respect that adequately reflect the essential and valuable nature of the job. Nursing homes were ground zero for COVID deaths and high infection rates among staff, bringing long overdue national attention to this broken industry.
Poll results indicate the twin problems of low wages and staffing shortages as the top concerns, with only one-third of nursing home workers reporting job satisfaction. Half of nursing home workers said they are likely to leave their current position in the next year.
“Like President Biden said last week, the nursing home industry needs immediate and strong attention.” said April Verrett, President of SEIU Local 2015. “The poll shows the urgent need for staff to resident ratios that provide for quality, compassionate care; training, career ladders, and opportunities to stand together in unions so workers can provide better care while making a career from the work we love. Biden has empowered states to lead this transformation, and SEIU local 2015 is poised to do just that in California through our ‘Put Care First’ agenda.”
“I like that President Biden announced that he wants to address low staffing levels,” said Christina Lockyer-White, a CNA whose facility was recently closed due to corporate negligence, and the First Vice President, Nursing Home Industry at SEIU 2015. “Union members have been saying since before the pandemic that something has to be done about these big corporate facility operators. Sounds like the President wants to require them to invest in safe, quality care rather than milking nursing homes for profits. The industry is broken. Facilities now can’t find workers. We need to turn these facilities into places where people want to work—where we have a voice and respect on the job, a wage we can live on and the tools that we need—including adequate staffing levels. We need to turn our nursing homes into places where our residents receive the kind of care they deserve.”
“I didn’t plan to leave nursing home work,” said Tiffany Hurst, until recently a CNA in Sonora, California. “I planned to only work there for a year and then go to nursing school, but I found my passion working with our elderly residents. I got to know them all and fell in love with them all. The tragic part was the understaffing. Coming onto a shift one day, I found one patient in a soaking bed who’d been in the same diaper briefs I’d put her in 16 hours earlier. I knew because my initials were on the briefs. I had a hernia from broken equipment. The administration locked up needed supplies. One day last May, I sat there in my car in front of the facility—it was the day after I’d lost another one of my favorite residents—and I just couldn’t get out of the car to start my shift. Staring at the facility entrance, I called from the car to say I was never coming back.”
Other topline results include:
- Staffing shortages in the healthcare industry were the number one concern of nursing home workers—edging out inflation, COVID-19, affordable healthcare, affordable housing and the economy, among other issues. 82% said they were extremely concerned, with an additional 8% expressing concern.
- Nursing home workers of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity and those with household incomes under $50,000 are more likely to indicate a likelihood to leave their current positions.
- Among those who indicate likelihood to leave their position in the next year, poor wages is the reason most cited. Nursing home workers also heavily referenced working conditions and staffing issues as other reasons they are considering leaving their roles.
- When asked about their concerns on the job, staffing levels and wages were the top concerns (both at 86%), followed by financial security and retirement benefits (81%), and healthcare benefits (77%).
- 50% of nursing home workers are split over whether they feel valued by their employer.
- Hispanic/Latino nursing home workers are less likely to indicate feeling valued by their employer.
- Staffing shortages rise to the top of negative attitudes with which nursing home workers agree—80% agree that staffing shortages make it hard to do their job and that COVID has made staffing shortages worse.
“Long-term care workers have been on the front lines protecting our communities throughout the pandemic, but they are quitting in droves due to lack of fair pay and protections,” said SEIU 2015 Executive Vice President Arnulfo De La Cruz. “The poll brings urgent attention to the reality of the situation. The nursing home industry needs to change, now. With half of workers saying they don’t feel valued by their employer and they’re likely to leave, we’re at a breaking point.”
This poll has highlighted alarming statistics about an industry we already know is in crisis. The results exemplify a shift in sentiment among nursing home workers over the past two years, as COVID has exacerbated many of the pre-existing issues in addition to introducing new ones. Respondents overwhelmingly indicated increased levels of concern over the economy and income inequality, repeatedly citing lack of fair wages as a top reason for job dissatisfaction.
“Everyone’s work is so hard. It seems like every nursing home is understaffed. People move on; they leave because of the staffing issues or they leave for money,” said Carol Ruiz Driver, an Activities Aide at a Nursing Home in San Jose. “We’re all trying to do our best. We have good hearts-that’s why we all stay. It’s the only reason. But, it’s too much sometimes. Your heart is breaking and you think to yourself ‘maybe I should work somewhere else.”
“Almost everyone had left by the time I quit my CNA job at the nursing home. The facility offered financial incentives (which they didn’t honor) to work double shifts—and as a single mom, I really needed the money,” said Abigail Jones, a former CNA in Tuolumne, California, who now works in a casino earning more money. “The hours were insane. Once, I worked 14 days in a row pulling 16-hour double shifts. My son was only one at the time. I missed his first steps. I missed his first full sentence. I had to reschedule his birthday three or four times. When they told me I had to come in on my birthday, after it had been approved and I had plane tickets and a hotel stay paid for, I left for my holiday and never went back.”
Over the last two years, SEIU Local 2015 members put their fight to improve their industry into high gear. They are currently using everything at their disposal to fix what’s broken in our long-term care system, from contract negotiations to pushing for passage of Build Back Better infrastructure investment, to enforcing laws passed last yearto bring transparency and accountability to nursing home operators. Last month, SEIU Local 2015 members demonstrated at long-term care facilities across California for a Valentine’s Day of Action to highlight the staffing crisis, show support for improved conditions, and to put pressure on those with the power to make the necessary change. Read more here and here.
In the coming days, we will introduce statewide solutions in line with Biden’s call to bring safety and accountability to the industry.
This survey was conducted from February 7-21, 2022. It was a hybrid live telephone survey, email and text-to-web of SEIU Local 2015 members and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) registrants working in private nursing homes. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Armenian by trained, professional interviewers.