The Potluck

Two-thirds of nursing home workers say they struggle to afford basic expenses

By: - October 11, 2023 2:11 pm

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Two out of three nursing home workers in Minnesota say they struggle to afford their basic needs each month, according to a survey of about 1,450 workers conducted by the Services Employees International Union.

The union, which represents thousands of nursing home workers, surveyed both union and non-union members and found nearly half make $20 per hour or less and 80% make $25 an hour or less.

Many survey respondents say the pay is too low to attract new workers and is contributing to the severe staffing shortages that are burning out workers and harming the state’s elderly and disabled residents.

“You don’t see much young (people) coming to apply to be a health care worker. Why? Because the money that they are paying is not attractive,” said Lognyie Adoo, a nursing assistant at the Villas at Robbinsdale, during a news conference on Wednesday announcing the survey results. “They prefer to go to McDonald’s (or) Walmart.”

The union’s survey results match the state Department of Employment and Economic Development’s occupational data which show nursing assistants and other health care support workers earn a median wage of around $20 an hour.

The union released the survey results ahead of the second meeting on Thursday of the state’s Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board, which the Legislature established earlier this year.

The board is one of the most powerful labor standards boards in the country, with the authority to set minimum wages and benefits.

The board is made up of three government representatives, three industry representatives and three worker representatives. At the board’s first meeting, they voted to appoint SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa President Jamie Gulley as chair.

During the Wednesday news conference, union leaders said they would push the board to set a minimum wage of $25 an hour for nursing home workers, as well as a retirement plan with “dignity” and safe staffing plans.

Nursing homes are funded nearly entirely by the government through Medicare and Medicaid, and Minnesota sets their reimbursement rates based on the average cost of care across the industry. (Nursing homes in Minnesota are not allowed to charge private-pay patients more than the government reimbursement rate.)

Under the law, if the board’s proposals exceed what nursing homes can reasonably afford based on their payment rates from Medicaid and Medicare, then the increases to wages and benefits will be delayed until the Legislature grants them more funding.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.