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Missouri nursing home workers say staffing shortages have created unsafe conditions

By: - March 23, 2023 6:00 am

The Missouri state flag is seen flying outside the Missouri State Capitol Building on Jan. 17, 2021 in Jefferson City (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images).

Workers from nursing homes across the state held a press conference and vigil at the state Capitol Wednesday to call attention to ongoing dangerous conditions caused by staffing shortages, and to grieve coworkers and patients lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The press conference was organized by health care workers represented by the Missouri/Kansas division of the Service Employees International Union HCII.

“I want to tell our legislators and our governor that Missouri nursing homes are failing,” worker and SEIU member Yamura Smith said. “They are failing residents, who are getting inadequate care. They are failing workers, who are sacrificing everything and getting nothing back.”

According to data provided by SEIU, Missouri nursing homes are among the worst in the nation when it comes to worker vaccination rates, workplace safety and hours of care patients receive.

Part of the press conference was dedicated to a vigil, where workers took a moment of silence before speaking of coworkers and patients they had lost.

“I worked in a nursing home that had almost 300 residents,” said SEIU member Lavetta Richardson. “I worked at this facility for about 15 years. And by the time we were done, we had maybe 100 or so residents left in this facility.”

“It was hard for me, when I started losing people,” Richardson said. “And I also lost a couple of coworkers. That was heart-wrenching.”

The workers called for the passage of two bills they say would go some way toward improving conditions. The first is House Bill 322, which would require hospitals and nursing homes to create and abide by safe staffing plans.

The second bill is House Bill 938, which would compel health care facilities to hold regular meetings between labor and management to ensure concerns were being heard and addressed.

“It’s just one of the simplest things you could do to actually make everybody safer,” Missouri Campaign Coordinator Laura Barrett said. “Because you’re getting information from the front line, and then you’re able to take action on it.”

Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City, the sponsor of HB 938, spoke in support of the workers’ cause at the press conference.

“During COVID, everybody was affected, but particularly our frontline workers,” Bland Manlove said. “SEIU covers those types of workers, those workers who weren’t offered clean masks and who did not get hazard pay. We want to lift all those people up.”

Currently, neither bill has been assigned to a committee, the next step in the legislative process.

Following their press conference, the workers walked to Governor Mike Parson’s office to deliver a letter demanding that he make sure that Missouri receives its share of the federal money set aside in President Biden’s budget for nursing home inspections to ensure safe conditions.

“We have watched our valued fellow workers and our precious residents succumb to this terrible disease,” retired health care worker Karen Wright read from the letter, “and we are heartsick.”

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

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