Unions praise nursing staff boost — but is it realistic?

The world was inundated with stories about care homes and staffing issues during the pandemic. The virus was allowed to spread unchecked, residents were left alone for many hours, and nurses were woefully overworked.

During the pandemic, more than 200,000 nurses and residents died from Covid-19, accounting for more than 20% of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S.

The situation was dire, which prompted President Biden to promise a significant overhaul of nursing staff in care homes in his State of the Union Address in 2022.

And now? Years of protest from nursing unions are paying off, as Biden announces “bold nursing staff reform.” The proposed standards of overhaul have arrived, and Labor unions aren’t disappointed.

The AFL-CIO and SEIU are applauding the plans, saying it’s a big step toward better working conditions. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said, “Our country doesn’t have a shortage of good nursing home workers — just a shortage of good nursing home jobs. Workers and the families of residents have been sounding the alarm for decades about the need for a minimum national staffing standard in nursing homes, and we commend the Biden–Harris administration for answering the call.”

Industry reps, however, say the measures would require more than 75% of nursing homes in the U.S. to hire additional staff during a nursing shortage, which may not be realistic.

What are the specific proposals?

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing a rule for every facility to have a Registered Nurse on site 24/7 to ensure a certain minimum number of registered nurses and aides. To allow nursing homes enough time to hire the necessary staff, CMS is proposing that the minimum staffing requirements be implemented in phases.
  • Each patient should be guaranteed 33 minutes of a nurse’s time each day, with 2.5 hours of a certified nursing assistant’s care every day.
  • There should be at least one certified nursing assistant for every 10 residents.

The measures sound modest, but how will they work in light of the nursing shortage? The CMS, in partnership with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is announcing a national nursing career pathways campaign. The campaign will help recruit, train, retain and transition workers into nursing home careers as nursing staff. This plan will invest more than $75 million in scholarships and tuition reimbursement.

While the proposal is causing controversy and the outcome remains to be seen, is there more unions can do to help nursing staff in the meantime?

Unions can help on a longer-term basis by offering better benefits to nurses to make healthcare a more attractive industry to enter — and to look after existing nurses. A TPA that specializes in Labor and trusts can help support the SEIU with ongoing benefits, which will play a big role in the months and years to come.

The reality of better health and welfare benefits and reliable pensions and 401(k)s can make a big difference in the attraction and retention of nurses. It just needs unions to bring a TPA expert on board to make it happen.

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