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Nursing home workers union pressing for reforms during COVID pandemic

While they are also highlighting contract issues during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the union contends there should be reforms by state government.

TONAWANDA, N.Y. — With all the controversy surrounding nursing home operations during the coronavirus pandemic, nursing home staffers and their union are pressing for some reforms in the industry here in New York State.

SEIU 1199 VIce President Todd Hobler told his members Thursday, "The time is now. People are paying attention. The time is now to change this industry."

That's the rallying cry of SEIU 1199 unionized employees who gathered at nursing homes for vigils and mini-protests in Tonawanda and other sites.

They were also at the Newfane Rehabilitation Center in Niagara County, which Channel 2's Steve Brown reported last May and in November had significant COVID cases among residents and staffing issues caused by COVID as well. 

John Religa is a union member who works at the Newfane facility.

"I come into work everyday and I see the exhaustion, the frustration, some of the anger of the employees faces every day," he said.

While they are also highlighting contract issues during the ongoing COVID situation, the union contends there should be reforms by state government.

Hobler says "There is a need for the state to require that nursing home operators put seventy percent of their revenue into resident care. Most of the revenue is tax dollars - Medicaid and Medicare and it should not be going for profit. It should be going to staffing, it should be going to care."

The union also wants to see a requirement for a certain number of hours of resident care per day, which would also require more staffing. 

The state attorney general's report also outlined reform measures for nursing homes and operators.

The question is, would Gov. Andrew Cuomo enact such reforms with the legislature?

He specifically put into place legal protections such as "legal immunity" for health care facilities affected by COVID cases to ensure they stayed open for care. 

2 On Your Side asked Hobler, do you know if the governor is receptive to your concerns?

"We are pushing the governor to be receptive to these proposals because it's time. This pandemic has exposed the problems in this industry," Hobler said.

We reached out to the administration of several area nursing homes and chain operators and the New York State Health Care Facilities Association, which is their advocacy organization.

There was no actual response other than references to some specific COVID care facilities which had been set up by nursing home operators to help deal with COVID infected residents.