Nursing home workers at 4 LA-area facilities ready to strike over staffing levels – Orange County Register

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Employees at four Southern California nursing homes who claim they’re chronically understaffed have authorized their bargaining team to call a strike if conditions don’t improve.

The 325 workers, represented by SEIU Local 2015, work at Vernon Healthcare Center in Los Angeles, Norwalk Skilled Nursing and Wellness Centre, Montrose Springs Skilled Nursing and Wellness Center and Gardenview Skilled Nursing and Healthcare Centre in Claremont.

The facilities are owned by Brius Healthcare and operated by Rockport Healthcare Services. Neither company could be reached for comment Tuesday.

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The workers are demanding an end to skyrocketing turnover and are calling for safer staffing levels to ensure adequate resident care.

They’re also seeking higher wages and improved benefits. Certified nursing assistants at the nursing homes average $19 hourly, the union said, while non-nursing personnel earn minimum wage or slightly more.

They’re seeking a 5% cost-of-living raise over the life of their three-year contract, with additional pay increases based on seniority. They also want healthcare coverage that’s more affordable. Only 10% of the union members participate in the current plan because it’s so costly, union officials said.

“This strike vote sends a strong message that we urgently need to invest in our frontline caregivers and those they care for,” SEIU President Arnulfo De La Cruz said recently when employees picketed some of the nursing homes.

De La Cruz said the caregivers have served and protected residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond but are caring for more residents than they can safely handle.

“They often work double shifts, sometimes exceeding 16 hours,” he said. “At times they are denied sick days.”

Brius and Rockport operate 77 nursing homes statewide. SEIU Local 2015 represents about 4,000 workers at 28 of the facilities, including 16 in Los Angeles County. Some of the LA County labor contracts expired last year, while others ran out as recently as February.

Workers at the four nursing homes poised for a potential strike picketed their facilities in July, along with other Brius/Rockport nursing homes in Inglewood and Maywood.

Danielle Williams, a certified nursing assistant at the Centinela Skilled Nursing & Wellness Centre West in Inglewood, has experienced the staffing shortage firsthand.

“Certain patients are a fall risk, but they’ll try to get up,” the 36-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “If their assigned nurse is with someone else and they’re walking around, there might not be a nurse on the floor who can keep an eye on them.”

Workers say the pattern of understaffing has gone on for years, fueling a string of government sanctions and exposing Brius to a series of lawsuits, including several actions filed by the California attorney general.

An August 2021 civil lawsuit filed in Shasta County’s Superior Court of California alleges Brius owner Shlomo Rechnitz and several other individuals and entities were responsible for the pandemic-related deaths of some 24 elderly and dependent residents at Windsor Redding Care Center.

The complaint claims several employees at the facility were forced to report to work, despite having symptoms of COVID-19. A large outbreak followed, causing more than 60 patients to contact the virus with about 24 dying, the lawsuit said.

Nursing Home Law Center, a Chicago-based organization that provides legal services to nursing home patients and their families, said Brius-owned properties have established a reputation of being “one of the worst chains of skilled nursing facilities in the country,” based on the number of health deficiencies found through federal inspections.

“The company is legendary for being secretive about nearly everything related to its organization,” the center said. “The chain has been barred by California from obtaining new licenses to operate nursing facilities due to its troubled compliance history.”

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