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Nursing home employees, union leaders tell lawmakers about changes they need in facilities


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Workers on the frontlines of long-term care want lawmakers to help them change the way Illinois runs facilities. Nursing home employees say a combination of low pay and inadequate staffing created a terrible situation during the pandemic.

SEIU members say the status quo isn't working for employees or residents, and it's putting more people in danger. Leaders of the healthcare union say Illinois should consider shifting the focus of long-term care from nursing homes to home and community-based services.

They believe people with disabilities and seniors could then receive care in the least restrictive settings. Some argue it could also allow for better investment in the workforce. Everyone knows the facilities are understaffed, but veteran CNA Anita Thompson explained she cares for 20-30 residents some nights. She says this short-staffing crisis fueled the COVID-19 outbreak inside many facilities.

"Why do we tolerate this," Thompson asked. "Why do you tolerate this, why won't the nursing home industry fix this? We know why. It's all about greed."

Thompson emphasized she should be caring for 10 to 15 residents instead of over 20. Unfortunately, she feels nursing home owners don't see adding more certified nurse assistants as adding more caregivers. Thompson says the industry only sees additional CNAs as additional expenses.

Severin: "We can't just make a law"

Employees like Thompson say they're overworked. However, they're still trying to help people most in need. Rep. Dave Severin, also a CNA, says the problems employees and residents face will continue during every shift unless the state makes significant changes.

"We can't just make a law," Severin said. "We can't just talk about it and have more inspectors, those types of things. We've gotta find a way to get people to take care of and take pride in these people that are in these homes."

Severin also symbolically called Wednesday Anita Thompson Day in Illinois to recognize her dedication and drive for change.

"Rep. Collins and I are both CNAs, so we get it. I tell ya, if you've never been one, you don't know. You don't have a clue what she does," Severin added. "For her to do this for the years that she's done it and also take care of her mother, I appreciate that very much."

AARP calls for swift action

Meanwhile, AARP Illinois told lawmakers residents need to have the ability to exercise their rights to visitation. The nonprofit organization is also advocating for lawmakers to help stop chronic understaffing at long-term care facilities.

"Families across Illinois are looking to the General Assembly and the governor's administration for swift action to protect the health and the safety of their loved ones living in long-term care facilities now and in the future. We simply cannot wait any longer," said AARP Illinois Associate State Director Lori Hendren.

Committee members from both chambers are still trying to craft an overarching proposal to address these issues. However, session is set to end on May 31.

SEIU Healthcare Government Relations Director Andrew Kretschmar pleaded with lawmakers to use a thoughtful approach for a longterm solution benefiting everyone.

"It's just time," Kretschmar said. "It's time to deal with this stuff - time to deal with it in a fair, respectful and compassionate way."

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Mike Miletich

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