Pa. healthcare group demands changes to nursing home regulations

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A Pennsylvania nurse union is demanding change after the pandemic tore through nursing homes killing thousands of seniors.

The group SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania has a list of reforms they want to see Governor Tom Wolf and state lawmakers make.

Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for the number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic. But, the group’s president Matthew Yarnell says major problems existed before coronavirus.

“Our nursing homes are in a terrible crisis. But it didn’t start with a crisis. Ask any caregiver and they’ll tell you,” Yarnell said.

They’re asking for changes in three areas: The first is addressing staffing shortages and putting higher minimum requirements on the hours of care given daily to each senior.

Nurse Tina Siegel says she’s seen that issue impact seniors in her years working at a nursing home.

“I feel Pennsylvania seniors have suffered for years because we haven’t had adequate staffing and I feel there’s no more time to waste,” Siegel said.

They also want guidelines in place about changes of ownership at nursing homes, because they say that can lead to bad working conditions and lower standards.

So they want to see rules in place to make sure owners don’t have bad track records at other homes.

Michelle Cooper’s dad lives in a nursing home that she’s seen go through three ownership transfers.

“It’s not fair. My father is a great person and he deserves good quality care. There are a lot of people there that provide that, but it’s not enough,” Cooper said.

The group also wants to see nursing home workers get better pay and benefits.

“People don’t want to come into this field because it’s hard work. The pay isn’t always that great, and a lot of times people don’t even have affordable healthcare,” Siegel said.

Those who spend their days caring for others are now asking to be cared for themselves.

“We’re not here to blame anyone. We’re here to say enough is enough,” Yarnell said. “We need to protect seniors, respect caregivers and we need to drive a regulation that sets real reform for Pennsylvania nursing homes so that we don’t ever see this kind of disaster again.”

The group says our state’s nursing home regulations haven’t been updated since the late 1990s, but they’re hoping their call to action can change that.