People who work in care, their consumers, and their families know that Oregon’s system is in crisis. Prior to the pandemic, SEIU 503 members had been doing our best to alert policymakers to the lack of staffing and the supports that could be established to fix it. Then came COVID-19 and a bad situation became a full-on crisis. Omicron made the situation even worse.
In 2021, we led an effort that resulted in industry-changing legislation for our state. In response to our advocacy, the Legislature passed bills to significantly move the needle on staffing, transparency, providing access to healthcare for workers at Oregon’s long-term care facilities, and increasing the amount of public funding for long-term care with the intention of raising wages and creating opportunities for companies to invest in their infrastructure. These were major wins, but unfortunately, our work is not done.
A recent New York Times expose on our bargaining campaign at The Rawlin memory care facility in Springfield revealed the horrific human toll of an understaffed, overstrained care system. “Elderly residents screamed from their rooms for assistance, and workers had to make the kinds of decisions that people are forced to make in war: Do you take precious time to do emergency wound care, even though you aren’t quite sure how…Do you stop to feed a resident who has trouble swallowing, knowing that others may not be fed if you do?”
While this pandemic will end at some point, that alone won’t end the crisis. Demand for care providers in our state is projected to increase by 36% over the next decade. That means we need to increase staffing now to address situations like at The Rawlin playing out all over our state as well as prepare for the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of aging baby boomers that we know is coming soon.
The Oregon Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1556 during the 2022 short session, which begins this week. If passed, the bill, which has bipartisan support, will create the foundation for a career ladder to encourage job mobility and advancement for caregivers and help reduce turnover and attract workers. The legislation would create and phase in a certification for caregivers in community-based care settings (assisted living, memory care, and residential care facilities) and homecare workers, as well as improve transparency by establishing a publicly accessible registry that consumers and others can use to confirm that a caregiver’s certification is current. The bill is rooted in addressing both our staffing crisis and providing transparency and accountability to people who need care and their families, so they can make informed, safe decisions.
“As a caregiver in a memory care facility, I loved connecting with and caring for the residents. Earning a certification would help me demonstrate that I had completed needed training and feel confident in myself to provide great care. It would also help me network to keep working in this field.” – Ariel Burger, Former Memory Care Facility Caregiver. If you work or have worked as a care provider, please use this link to tell lawmakers how SB 1556 will help workers like you and the people you care for.