More than three months after a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., became the center of the country’s first coronavirus outbreak, a majority of nursing home workers believe they’re risking their lives on the job and that their employers are not doing enough to protect them from the virus, according to a new union survey.
Most nursing home workers say their employers (76%) and the federal government (80%) are not doing enough to ensure they have access to protective equipment, free COVID-19 testing and paid sick days. And 78% say their “life is at risk every day” at work because of the virus, according to a survey by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which was shared with TIME.
This comes as the pandemic continues to devastate nursing homes and as some states begin to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases as they reopen. There have been more than 43,000 coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities across 40 states as of June 4, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation — accounting for nearly 40% of the country’s coronavirus deaths.
Nursing home workers, who have long faced challenges with low pay, occupational hazards and understaffing, say they feel unprotected and disrespected on the frontlines while caring for people who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Among their main demands since the pandemic swept the country are hazard pay, sick time and more personal protective equipment (PPE). Nursing home residents and their families have also raised concerns about how facilities have responded to the pandemic.
“The worst thing that I get upset about is hearing the word hero, hero, hero being thrown around for us. And no one is treating us as such. We feel disrespected,” Tanya Beckford, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at a nursing home in Newington, Conn., previously told TIME. She says she had been asking her facility for more masks, gloves and gowns, before she positive for COVID-19 in April. The nursing home denied Beckford’s claims.
In May, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began requiring nursing homes to report coronavirus cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as to residents and their families. At the same time, the White House recommended that nursing homes test every resident and employee for COVID-19, but state and industry leaders have said they don’t have the resources to do that — neither enough tests, nor people to administer them.
Written by Katie Reilly