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Florida Nursing Home Caregivers Make History: First in State With Safe Staffing Requirements in Contract

After Florida enacted a new law rolling back minimum safe staffing requirements in the states nursing homes on July 1, 1199SEIU members at Avanté at Lake Worth Nursing Home saw an opportunity to maintain higher safe staffing levels by negotiating them in their union contract.

“When we learned the state rolled-back minimum safe staffing levels, we felt like our wings were clipped and wondered how are we going to take care of people’s loved ones in the best way possible,” said Doreen Holm, a CNA with 23 years of experience who has worked at Avanté for four and a half years. “My co-workers and I are overwhelmed and excited that we were able to negotiate a contract that includes safe staffing protections for residents. It’s something we fought for as soon as we found out the state was rolling back staffing levels.”

After negotiating with the company for two months, they finally reached agreement. On August 23, union members at Avanté made history by voting to ratify the first union contract in the state to include safe staffing requirements, which guarantees residents will receive a minimum weekly average of at least 2.9 hours of bedside care per resident per day.

The new contract also provides Avanté workers with wage increases, bonuses, a 401(k) plan with employer-matching contributions, and health insurance and tuition benefits.

“I think this is one of the best contracts we’ve gotten so far,” said Holm. “We’re very excited about how far we’ve come. We did it by standing together.”

By including safe staffing protections in their union contract, Avanté and its workers have sent a strong message to the legislature and nursing homes throughout Florida that care for seniors and people living with a disability must be a priority and should be the last thing to be cut.

Since minimum safe staffing levels were instituted in nursing homes in 2001 with bipartisan support, care in Florida has greatly improved. As a result, Florida has earned one of the highest standards of nursing home care in the nation.

Unfortunately, the new law permanently cuts minimum safe staffing levels in nursing homes from a weekly average of 2.9 hours of care per resident per day by certified nursing assistants to 2.5 hours of care.

This shortens the minimum amount of time caregivers spend with each resident by 18 minutes per day. As a result, there can be delayed responses if a resident falls, less time to attend to bedsores, delayed bathing and grooming, less time to help a resident get to the bathroom, and less time to simply have a friendly, stimulating conversation.

But nursing homes like Avanté are not required to roll back safe staffing, and can make the moral choice to provide a higher standard of care than the state requires, as Avanté has done.

“It could be your mom or my mom that’s not being cared for properly because of staffing cut,” said Holm. “These are all of our loved ones. I’m very glad that residents will get much better care with our contract’s safe staffing protections in place.”

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