Nurses, caregivers rally for higher wages

November 10, 2015

Nurses, caregivers rally for higher wages

November 10, 2015 

— A raise could mean the ability to buy a new flat-screen TV, to pay off a debt that’s long dragged you down or to pay for that vacation you’ve always wanted.

Local nurses and caregivers, however, said a raise to $15 per hour for their work would mean the difference between unable to scrape by and supporting themselves and their family.

About 25 nurses and caregivers gathered for a half-hour rally outside the State College Municipal Building and in the rain Tuesday. It was one of 14 statewide demonstrations organized by nursing home workers, held under the umbrella of nationwide “Fight for $15” protests.

Despite generating $407 million in profit in 2014, a $37 million increase according to a Keystone Research Center study, Pennsylvania’s nursing home industry employs 15,000 workers who rely on public assistance. Fifty-two percent of Pennsylvania nursing home workers surveyed said they cannot support their families.

Greg Overturf, a dietary worker at Mount Nittany Medical Center, said $15 per hour is just a start.

“I do receive assistance, and I actually do make over $15 an hour, so I have an interesting perspective to show that $15 an hour is a bare minimum,” he said.

Elizabeth Mosley, a home care worker from Williamsport, finds it hard to support herself.

“If I find it hard to make a living as a single person, I know the people here with two or three children would find it impossible,” she said. “We deserve to be able to take care of our children and live comfortably, because what we do, everyone is going to need eventually.”

Donna Heimbach, who works at Hearthside Nursing and Rehabilition Center, said some people she works with have to take multiple jobs to support their families.

“Their spirit is there, but they just look like zombies, because they’re overworked,” Heimbach said. “No one can keep that schedule, so eventually they burn out, and we end up short-staffed.”

Retention, she said, is a problem throughout the nursing and home care industry.

“We have young workers come in that are dedicated to their residents,” Heimbach said. “They put their hearts into this work, but they need to be practical about it. They look down the road and think ‘How could I retire on that’ and ‘Could I ever afford to buy a home?’ ”

Raising wages, however, is not a slam dunk solution for everyone, Overturf said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it would be a huge help and have a huge impact on a lot of people, but it won’t 100 percent solve all of the problems,” he said.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli

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