Oregon Bill Targets Wages, Working Conditions In Long-Term Care Industry 

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Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill focused on wages, benefits and working conditions in the long-term care industry, which has a high turnover rate. 

House BIll 4080 would create a 12-member task force to find ways to help certified nursing aides and other support workers who are often paid minimum wage and work long hours while caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society in facilities that often charge thousands of dollars a month.

The bill was discussed Monday in the House Committee on Human Services and Housing. The proposal would create a Task Force on Medicaid and Medicare Workforce Standards and would include providers, union officials, Oregon Department of Human Services staff and advocates or members of the elderly and disabled populations. 

“They don’t get a lot of pay,” said Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, a sponsor. “They don’t really have access to benefits in a lot of cases.” 

This is not a new issue. A 2015 Oregon Department of Human Services report found the average hourly wage across the industry was just $12.38. That report found an average annual turnover rate of 64% for all provider types.

Concerns about the workforce are growing as baby boomers enter their retirement years, putting  pressure on the state’s nursing homes, assisted living and residential care facilities, adult foster homes and home health services. 

Kyndall Mason, a lobbyist with the Service Employees International Union Local 503, said the industry needs standards for pay, benefits, hours and staffing conditions, especially when considering the millions of public funding that flow into nursing homes and other facilities. The SEIU represents workers in the long-term care field. 

“It continues to just plague the industry in general,” Mason said. 

Dr. Helen Kao, a geriatrics and palliative physician and member of Oregon’s Residential Ombudsman & Public Guardian Advisory Board, urged lawmakers to consider families who are so worried about the care their loved ones are getting that they attend to their basic needs instead of just visiting with them.

“We see the impact on families of individuals who rely on caregivers,” she said. 

Co-sponsor Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene,  said the issue needs attention throughout the entire state.

“Medical needs are not an urban issue,” he said. “They are a human issue.”

If approved, the task force would submit reports and recommendations to legislators in the 2021 and 2023 sessions. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

 

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