In the past few weeks, the Licensed Practical Nurses ( LPNs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) who are represented by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, have been caring for several residents at the Safire Rehabilitation of the Northtowns, located on Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda, who tested positive for COVID 19. Numerous employees have tested positive as well, and have been in quarantine.
Repeated calls for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), including fitted masks, and safety training were rebuffed by the out-of-town operators of the facility. Previous scheduled labor-management meetings to discuss safety protocols were cancelled by management and almost no training has been offered to caregivers during this crisis. Todd Hobler, 1199SEIU’s Vice President for Western New York nursing homes, said this is unacceptable.
“It is obviously not enough,” Hobler said. “At nursing homes like this one, we need the government to step in and make sure that every caregiver has the personal protective equipment (PPEs) that they need to keep themselves and their residents safe. It is pretty clear here that the owners are not going to do it on their own.”
Nurses held a socially distanced protest on Thursday to express concern about the safety of the staff and residents at the nursing home. The protest was prompted by the growing lack of preparation. Hobler said the protest was to raise attention to the problems which has been occurring. For the time being, Hobler remains hopeful that the situation will be addressed. He said this is not the time to be out protesting since the state has implemented numerous social distancing mandates.
“It was sort of a shift change protest where workers came off their shift,” Hobler said. “We stood six feet apart and held a sign that said, ‘We need PPEs’. We were just there for 15 minutes to express our concerns about the circumstances at the facility.”
Other complaints coming from the nursing staff was that supplies that have been provided are inadequate, they have not had the training. Some problems have been that there is a lack of staff and a general consensus about this but nothing has been done. The 1199SEIU was able to secure about thirty donated KN95 masks and began to provide fit testing for some union members working at Safire of the Northtowns this week. Hobler said protests shouldn’t last much longer but workers have been looking to the State Department of Health for support.
“The calls to the [State] Department of Health went out and we finally got a hold of them earlier this week,” Hobler said. “The first line here was with the employer. It was pretty clear that the employer wasn’t doing what it needed to do. We’re just hoping for a quick response here.”
Hobler said at this time he is uncertain about the responses from the Department of Health to members of the 1199SEIU.