Workers to Demand Nursing Home Industry Be Held Accountable for COVID-19 Crisis
DETROIT — More than five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has devastated nursing homes in Michigan and nationwide with no end in sight, 1,600 Detroit nursing home workers will go on strike starting August 17 over unfair labor practices that illustrate the industry’s failure to keep workers and residents safe.
“COVID-19 showed the public what the Black women who work in nursing homes have known for years — these homes put profits over people,” said Izella Hayes, a nursing assistant at Imperial Nursing Home. “We’re standing up to greedy nursing home owners and demanding safe staffing so that every worker and resident can be treated with the dignity they deserve.”
Workers at 18 homes across metro Detroit — all but two of which are represented by for-profit nursing home chains Villa, Ciena, Charles and Dunn — are calling on owners to rightsize staffing ratios that put residents at risk, provide adequate PPE for the duration of the pandemic, pay frontline workers a living wage, and take responsibility for the crisis of COVID-19 within nursing homes.
“It’s no coincidence that nearly 2,000 nursing home workers and residents have died from COVID-19 in Michigan alone. Nursing home owners failed to prepare for this virus before it arrived, and failed to protect us once it was here,” said Trece Andrews, a laundry worker at Regency at St. Clair Shores. “I care for my residents like they’re my family. By going on strike, I’m not just fighting on behalf of nursing home workers — I’m fighting for my residents, too.”
In Detroit, where the majority of nursing home workers are Black women, striking workers will draw attention to the racial disparities inherent to the nursing home crisis.
“The overwhelming majority of us are Black, and we are being forced to work through the crisis on poverty wages and without sufficient PPE at a time when Black people are getting sick and dying at higher rates,” said Lisa Elliott, a nursing assistant at Regency at St. Clair Shores. “We’re called essential, but we’re treated like we’re expendable. We’re calling on nursing home owners to pay us a living wage so we can afford to get healthcare just like we provide it, and put in place proper safety protocols and guarantee PPE throughout the pandemic.”
Nursing home industry under fire
For-profit nursing homes have drawn renewed scrutiny in recent months, as COVID-19 data have shown nursing homes as consistent hotspots for the virus nationwide and accusations have surfaced of nursing homes misusing billions of federal aid dollars allocated through pandemic relief packages. But problems in the nursing home industry go deeper than its coronavirus response.
In Michigan, 69% of nursing homes represented by Villa have received a one- or two-star rating from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Villa’s Michigan homes have received 30 federal penalties and almost $600,000 in fines over the last three years.
And while a third of Ciena homes have performed poorly on CMS quality and staffing metrics, Ciena CEO Mohammad Qazi is reported to be developing a $377 million condominium project in Midtown Detroit. Ciena also has a history of allegations for Medicaid fraud and misreporting expenses to the state.
Workers in Detroit will strike at the following nursing homes, sorted by ownership:
- Regency at Westland
- Willowbrook Manor
- The Manor of Farmington
- Regency Heights
- Omni Continuing Care
- Hartford Nursing and Rehabilitation
- Regency at St. Clair Shores
- Regency-Whitmore Lake
- Regency at Taylor
- St. Joseph’s, a Villa Center
- Father Murray
- Villa at City Center
- Villa at Great Lakes Crossing
- Imperial Nursing and Rehabilitation
- Fountain Bleu Health and Rehab (LPNs and Service Units)
- Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing
- Beaconshire Nursing Center
Nursing home contractor at Villa homes
Nursing home employees rise up, demand homes #ProtectAllWorkers
On July 20, hundreds of nursing home workers joined tens of thousands across 200 cities in the Strike for Black Lives, demanding their employers provide adequate protection for frontline workers and residents who are predominantly Black.
“I’m going on strike because I’ve seen firsthand how Black folks in nursing homes — both residents and workers — have borne the brunt of COVID-19, yet our employer has failed time and time again to do what they need to do to protect us,” said Toyai Anderson, a certified nursing assistant at Hartford Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Detroit. “I’m Black when I go to work and I’m Black when I come home to my community — I deserve dignity and respect in the workplace as well as in the streets. It’s time to come together as workers and win both economic and racial justice.”
Detroit nursing home workers have been vocal throughout the pandemic, speaking out about unsafe conditions for workers and residents alike. In June, SEIU Healthcare Michigan memorialized the 1,900 nursing home residents and 20 workers who have passed away from COVID-19 with an action on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, a historic site where nursing home workers organized and took action to demand better working conditions in the 1980-90s.
As a result of nursing home worker activism, Detroit nursing home worker and SEIU Healthcare Michigan union steward Trece Andrews was named to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force, representing frontline workers across Michigan who have been impacted during the pandemic.
The task force is charged with analyzing relevant data on the threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes, making recommendations to the governor on improving data quality and releasing periodic reports to the governor on its findings and recommendations.
“I bring a perspective from the front lines of the nursing homes that industry and government officials don’t necessarily have,” Andrews said. “Workers are responsible for executing any safety measures. If you don’t include us in the decision-making process, even the best safety measures will fall short. I will bring this perspective to the task-force.”