Nursing Homes Send Out Plea For More Help
By LINDSAY PETERSON firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Aug 30, 2001
TAMPA - Tampa Bay area nursing homes have four months to hire hundreds of aides to comply with a new state law, and an industry spokeswoman acknowledged Wednesday they face ``a real crisis'' if they fail.
``We're making an urgent call,'' said Karen Soehner of the Florida Health Care Association. ``We're desperately seeking caring, dedicated people to join us in serving the elderly.''
Homes that lack enough certified nursing assistants by Jan. 1 will be barred from admitting new residents, according to the law passed in May.
``Patients will start backing up in hospitals because they won't be allowed in the nursing homes,'' Soehner said at a news conference in Tampa.
In Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando and Citrus counties, 174 homes must hire at least 795 CNAs by the deadline to meet the law's requirements. Statewide, the need is at least 3,525.
The demand is part of a nursing home reform that set limits on lawsuits alleging poor care and that increased quality standards, particularly by raising the number of employees required to care for residents.
The standards increase gradually for the next two years, and by 2004, the 174 Tampa Bay area homes would need 2,473 additional aides.
Soehner pleaded for churches and other faith- based organizations to help find the kind of people it takes to care for elders near the end of their lives.
It's hard work that counts on people with extraordinary compassion, said Terry Bucher, head of the Florida Association of Nursing Assistants.
CNAs provide all the close, hands-on care in a nursing home, Bucher noted. Some residents depend on them for every need, from bathing to dressing to eating.
``It's a calling,'' she said. ``It's a ministry.''
But it's also an occupation people have rejected because it doesn't pay a living wage and because working conditions can be intolerable, said Bentley Lipscomb, director of the Florida AARP, which helped pass the reform legislation.
The average pay for a Florida CNA is $8.70 an hour. That surely will rise, Soehner said; the legislation included a $76 million increase in state nursing home spending to help pay costs of hiring more people and improving care.
Soehner agreed CNAs have faced serious workload problems. As part of a state task force two years ago, she said, she heard from many who described being left alone to care for too many residents at once.
That, too, will change with the staffing increases, she vowed. ``Our message is: `Please come back. The workloads are going to get lighter.' ''
Recruiting CNAs is only part of the challenge, said Monica Russo of the Service Employees International Union, which has organized in 75 of Florida's 700 nursing homes.
``Retention is the major issue,'' Russo said. ``A revolving door of employees is not quality of care. Continuity is what it takes - long-term employees who know the residents.''
That means nursing homes must provide better benefits in addition to working conditions, she said. Many offer health insurance, but workers find they can't afford the cost of covering their children. Some offer investment plans, but at $8 an hour, CNAs can't contribute.
"If they want workers to stay, benefits have to be real,'' Russo said. Some homes provide strong benefits, but overall the industry has "a long way to go.''
Reporter Lindsay Peterson can be reached at (813) 259-7834.