Nursing home caregivers in Scotia rallied Wednesday to raise awareness about an ongoing contract dispute that they believe is affecting the quality of care for residents.
About 20 health care workers stood on the street corner outside of Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation on North Ballston Avenue Wednesday afternoon, holding a banner and waving at passersby. The group in April 2015 voted to join the 1199 SEIU health care union and has been negotiating a contract with Baptist management since August 2015.
Staffers who were part of the protest said the lack of a contract has left them with low wages and poor benefits compared to other area facilities, which has caused a high employee turnover rate and low staffing. However, nursing home management said they've made "generous" offers to the union members during negotiations and are hopeful the group will reconsider.
The rally comes about a month after one certified nursing assistant found a resident who had wandered off the property and made it to Dutch Meadows Lane in Scotia, a couple miles away from the nursing home.
The nurse, Faith Gregory, found the man while filling her car with gas nearby during her day off and called the nursing home to have him returned. He was eventually picked up by a maintenance worker, she said.
Increased staffing could improve safety for residents, she said.
"We want our patients to be safe, and we want to know we're appreciated for what we do," Gregory said.
Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation most recently received a three-star - or "average" - rating in the staffing category from Nursing Home Compare, a federal database that provides comprehensive ratings on nursing homes participating in Medicare.
Mike Zyskowski, a certified nursing assistant who said he's been with Baptist for 14 years, said staffing now is at an all-time low, adding that on some weekends there are only two aides left to assist 41 residents.
"It becomes a safety concern," he said. "And you can't spend much time with residents when you have that many to oversee."
He added that he thinks the short-staffing has become the norm, and Baptist management doesn't realize the potential safety issues it's caused.
"They just don't seem to understand the crisis we're in," Zyskowski said.
The next step would ideally be to establish a contract that has good pay and benefits, which would entice more workers to come to Baptist, said Zyskowski, who's on the negotiation team.
In response to the rally, nursing home management rejected many of the claims levied by staffers participating on Wednesday, saying they've made efforts to get a deal done.
Ruth Tietz, director of marketing and development for Baptist Health System, said the facility is staffed at or above average compared to other facilities, though she didn't have an exact figure for the number of nurses on staff. There are currently 252 residents at the Scotia facility.
"We're disappointed that the union has resorted to making alarmist and misleading claims," she said Wednesday.
Management has made proposals that include an increase in wages and enhanced staffing on harder to fill shifts at previous bargaining sessions, Tietz said, but union leaders declined the offer.
"We remain hopeful the union will reconsider its positions," she said.
Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, email@example.com or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.