Did it take a pandemic for us to notice certified nursing assistants?
Out of 1.5 million CNAs nationwide, Over 500,000 nursing home CNAs care for a medically fragile population. They providing 90% of all direct patient care often putting themselves in danger of exposure to COVID-19 due to their close contact with clients. Physicians and nurses represent only a fraction—less than one-fifth—of all essential health workers. Certified Nursing Assistants are the lowest paid and most at risk among health care workers.
For many CNAs, the greatest insult of the crisis is exclusion from the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, which provides pay for sick employees or employees caring for sick loved ones.
Billions of dollars have been sent from Washington to nursing home operators across the United States, with the express intent of covering elevated expenses related to COVID-19. However, how many of these operators decided not to pass the federal largesse down to caregivers in the form of bonuses or permanent raises.
Federal Aid Must Include Direct Payments to Caregivers
Certified Nursing Assistants deserve more recognition for the hard work they do. We as a nation have moral obligation to support the selfless individuals on the front lines. This means cash that they can use to support themselves and their families during this global pandemic. It’s time to call for direct and indefinite cash support to frontline nursing home workers.
One encouraging step is the new Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes — an independent committee of 25 experts looking to improve nursing homes.
What else can be done?
Keep workers Safe
Policymakers and employers should be keeping Certified Nursing Assistants and other frontline health workers safe on the job. This should include personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, N95 respirators, isolation gowns, gloves, and face shields.
Enact hazard pay to ensure that no worker risking his or her life during this crisis is paid less than a family-sustaining wage.
Expand paid leave
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an update to the temporary rule they issued in April regarding coronavirus leave. This update changes the definition of health care workers. Employees defined as health care workers are not required to have paid sick leave and extended family and medical leave under the Act.
Covered paid sick leave for health care staff should include:
- Up to two weeks of COVID-19-related paid sick leave if an employee is Under quarantine order from a government entity (local, state or federal);
- Advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
- Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical diagnosis;
- Caring for another who meets any of the above conditions; or
- Caring for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19-related reasons
Certified Nursing Assistants are risking their lives with far less prestige and recognition, very low pay, and less access to the protective equipment. We need to make sure that these workers safe on the job, are compensated with a living wage, support them if they fall ill, and give them the respect and appreciation they deserve.