Certified nursing aides, or CNAs, and their supporters marched by the hundreds from the War Memorial to the State House calling for legislative relief from the pressures of an increasingly demanding job.
“I work 7 to 3, and it’s 10 to 12 residents per person,” noted Devika Smith, a Jersey City CNA.
These are women, mostly, many immigrants, making an average $11 an hour, caring for the vulnerable, elderly, and others adults who can’t care for themselves.
“We have two meals per shift, so with those meals come feeding, comes setting up,” added CNA Tyshara Bonaparte. “But before we can even give out breakfast, most likely we’re there changing soiled diapers.”
Smith says the work has gotten harder.
“I’ve been there for 13 years,” she says, “but now I’ve seen in the past year the senior citizens that are coming in are coming in with wounds, or they’re coming in with amputations, so it’s a lot. It’s not just like mom was 80 and she has a little Alzheimer’s. No, mom is 80 and she might have a big wound, she might have just had her leg amputated.”
While nursing homes have staff nurses who administer medication and handle other medical emergencies, the CNAs do the heavy lifting, literally. Some may have as many as 15 residents, or patients, per shift.
“I worked as a CNA for 14 years and to go in those facilities and work with 13 and 14 residents, 15, 16 residents, 20, 25 residents. It is a disrespect,” shouted 1199SEIU organizer Patricia Matthews.
“We become very worked out and overwhelmed. Sometimes you don’t want that energy to rub off on your residents,” Smith said.
Demonstrators, organized by 1199, the Service Employees International Union, are calling for the passage of Senate Bill 1612, which sets minimum ratios for certified nurse aides to patients: 1 to 8 for the day shift, 1 to 10 for the evening, and 1 to 16 during the night shift.
“We’ll move this bill. We got to get it to the governor’s desk, and we need him to sign it because time is up,” Senate President Steve Sweeney told the crowd.
“The people who work in these nursing homes, if you ever go into one, they work their butts off from lifting, to cleaning, to feeding, to being a companion,” he added. “It’s time we fix this.”
Sweeney says he believes the pro-union Gov. Phil Murphy will sign the bill. But the Governor’s Office doesn’t comment on pending legislation, so these workers will have to wait and see if the state’s new stronger and fairer agenda extends to them.