The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear to the world how critical certified nursing assistants and other essential workers are in our everyday lives. However, too many corporations and elected officials still view frontline workers as sacrificial instead of essential.
Now more than ever it’s critical that we elect a President who listens to our voices, values all jobs and will make it easier for working people to join unions. That’s why I invited former Vice President Joe Biden to see what’s happening at the Philadelphia nursing home where I work as a part of SEIU’s Walk-a-Day program.
I’ve been working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for almost 30 years. I went to work in this field right after high school because I really love helping people.
As a CNA at a nursing home, I help seniors, people with disabilities, and those rehabbing from accidents and surgeries with their basic living needs as well as some physical therapy exercises. My favorite duty is not in my job description but it’s necessary: spending quality time with residents. I sit and talk with them, paint their nails, and embrace them when they’re sad or lonely. For many, I am their family.
But it’s a rarity that I can spend that much time with my residents. Like a lot of facilities, we are seriously understaffed. Whenever we don’t have enough nursing assistants, I might have to provide essential care to up to 22 people during my shift. This means that on many days I only get 15 minutes to feed someone, bathe them and turn them over so they don’t get bed sores.
I believe the reason understaffing is such a problem in my industry is because our work is undervalued by too many people in power. CNAs are often paid poverty wages and have no benefits although we do critically important work. Many CNAs feel like they don’t have the support they need when they try to speak out about these problems.
These are some of the issues I talked with Vice President Biden about during our virtual Walk-a-Day. I also told him how important having a union has been for me and my colleagues. Vice President Biden shared with me that he wants to make sure nursing home workers and other caregivers get paid what they’re worth, transforming caregiving jobs, once and for all, into jobs that are not only valued by society, but also jobs that people can live on and provide a decent quality of life for their families.
It was a relief to know that the man I want to be our next president not only listened to me, but has a comprehensive plan to address both the long-term care crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s the type of leadership our country needs right now.
Shanrika Nelson is a proud mother and grandmother and a member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.