Bangor Daily News published a letter from Phillip Bennett, an administrator at Bangor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.  See below.

As a nursing home administrator, I read with great interest the BDN report “Worn to the Sole” about the Maine woman who protects the dying and can barely make ends meet. This article accurately and empathetically portrayed the daily life of a dedicated CNA in a Bangor-area nursing home. It highlighted her sincere commitment to the residents for whom she cares and the quality of care that comes from an intimate knowledge of their likes and needs, developed over months or years of daily personal attention. And it reflected her pride and confidence in working as a professional caregiver.

But “Worn to the Sole” is aptly named, reflecting the difficulties faced by CNAs in all nursing homes, where the work is hard, the hours sometimes unexpectedly long, and wages insufficient to pay the bills and provide a satisfactory living.

Maine nursing homes face an intractable CNA shortage with no precedent, and they have been struggling for some time with how to deal with it. The CNA hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, has fallen over the last 10 years — a long time during which every dollar a CNA brings home buys less — and in any case, it has never provided much more than a subsistence wage.

Together with the stress the job entails (both because of reasonable and unreasonable supervisor and family member expectations) and risk of injury (Maine CNAs are injured as often as construction workers), there has been a disincentive for CNAs to remain in the field — and they are either leaving the field altogether or for better pay elsewhere.

 As nursing homes see CNA vacancies appear with greater frequency, they turn to temporary staffing agencies, often paying twice as much to maintain minimum staffing. The agencies fill the vacancies by paying temporary CNAs a higher hourly wage. The work the agencies offer may be less certain, and benefits may or may not be available, but CNAs need a better income. Many CNAs have moved to those agencies for the higher hourly pay they receive. Many end up working in nursing homes in the same area, which are befuddled by their lack of staff and what to do about the matter. Additionally, to reduce the extraordinary and ongoing costs of temporary CNAs, nursing homes require additional hours of work on short notice, a practice all too common in health care but unacceptable in other walks of life.

It seems to me that the answer is fairly clear: CNAs in nursing homes need to be paid more. The CNA shortage is a long-term structural change caused partly by nursing homes not paying enough to attract and retain workers — a problem compounded by requiring additional shifts or weekends to cover staff shortages.

Bangor Nursing and Rehabilitation has done both — significantly increasing CNA wages and eliminating the requirement for them to stay for additional shifts. It makes no business sense to pay exorbitant fees for CNAs from staffing agencies while waiting for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to increase reimbursement rates. It is ethical and practical to pay better wages. Nursing homes already pay more for temporary CNAs than if they paid a higher wage to recruit or retain their own staff. Not to do so flies in the face of reason, regardless of state legislative action.

Our experiment is early. We still have unexpected turnover, but we do receive more applications for vacancies and fill them faster than before, and have greater employee satisfaction by not mandating additional hours. We also hope to improve our retention by offering better wages and not requiring our employees stay beyond their scheduled shifts.

Perhaps an independent nonprofit can do this easier than a corporate for-profit entity, but this change is inevitable. The sooner CNAs make more and have reliable hours, the more likely nursing homes will be able to reduce their dependency on staffing agencies and reduce their wage expenses. In the process they will likely find satisfaction in caring for their employees as those employees care for their residents. It is the right thing to do.

 

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