Nursing home bleeds employees as Amazon lures low-wage employees with incentive packages

ERLANGER, Ky. – The sleek corporate offices of one of Amazon’s air freight contractors are tucked away on Villaspring of Erlanger, a stately nursing home set on a hillside in the suburbs of Cincinnati. An Amazon Prime Air cargo plane departs from a recently opened Amazon Air Hub undercarriage. Its Prime pickups rattled along the highway, rattling nursing home windows.

This is everyday life in the shadow of Amazon.

John Muller, CEO of Care, Operator Villaspring. “They are still working on the Air Hub.”

Amazon’s ambitious expansion plans in northern Kentucky include $1.5 billion, 600 acre site that will act as the nerve center for Amazon’s domestic air freight operations, which has caused anxiety among nursing home administrators in an area with high unemployment rates. industry is only 3%. Ready buckling from an exodus Pandemic-tired healthcare workers, nursing homes losing new nurses, dietitian assistants and housekeepers are drawn to higher-paying jobs at Amazon.

Average starting salary for a senior position at Amazon warehouses and goods centers is over $18 an hour, with the ability to go up to $22.50 an hour and a $3,000 signing bonus, depending Depends on location and shift. The full-time job with the company comes with health benefits, 401(k)s, and parental leave. In contrast, even as many states offer temporary bonuses-19 to workers in long-term care facilities, lower-skilled nursing home positions often pay almost $15 an hour, usually with sick leave or minimal benefits.

Nursing home administrators say they can’t match Amazon’s hourly pay scale because they rely on modest reimbursement rates set by Medicaid, the government program that pays for long-term care .

Across the region, nursing home managers have closed doors and turned away new residents, upsetting families and making it harder for hospitals to get patients into long-term care. The modest salary increase has yet to match Amazon’s generous benefits package or counter skepticism about the benefits of nursing for the younger generation.

Danielle Geoghegan, sales manager at Green Meadows . Wellness Center in Mount Washington, Kentucky, a nursing home lost workers to its Amazon facility in Shepherdsville. To replace? “They come here and handle people’s bodily fluids.”

The nursing home industry has long employed high school graduates to feed, bathe, and clean children, and tends to rely on disabled and dependent seniors. But facilities located near Amazon’s giant distribution centers fell short in the bidding war.

“Chick-fil-A could raise prices,” said Betsy Johnson, president of the Kentucky Association of Healthcare Facilities. “We cannot pass the cost on to our customers. The person paying for the service is the government, and the government sets the price. “

And while scathing comments about fast-food restaurants having to close for indoor dining because of worker shortages have boiled over around Kentucky, Johnson said nursing homes must remain open. shop every day, every hour of the year.

“We can’t say, ‘This row of residents won’t get any services today,” she said.

Upstream access

Nationwide long-term care facilities reduce 221,000 jobs as of March 2020, according to a recent report by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Livelihoods, an organization representing 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities. care for 5 million people. While many hospitals and doctors’ offices have struggled to add staff, the report says long-term care facilities are suffering a labor crunch “worse than any other healthcare sector”. “. Industry surveys show that 58% of nursing homes have a limited number of newcomers, citing staff shortages.

Kentucky and other states are relying on free or low-cost government-funded training programs to fill new workforces. Recruits fall into the hands of teachers like Jimmy Gilvin, an assistant nurse instructor at Gateway Community and Technical College in Covington, Kentucky, one of the Suffering River Cities located along the Ohio River .

On a recent morning, Gilvin stood on a medical dummy lying on a hospital bed, surrounded by teenagers and young adults, each reading a textbook “Supporting Long Term Care Nursing.” Gilvin holds a toothbrush and toothpaste, demonstrating how to clean a patient’s dentures — “If someone feels clean, they feel better,” he says — and how to roll unconscious patients onto their sides. .

The curriculum covers the practical aspects of working in a nursing home: making beds, caring for catheters, using beds, and transferring patients from wheelchairs to beds.

“It takes a very special person to be a certified nursing assistant,” says Gilvin. “It’s a tough job, but it’s a necessary job.”

Over the past five years, Gilvin has noticed a distinct attrition: “Most of them aren’t even done yet, they’re moving into another area.” In response, nursing schools are reaching further upstream, recruiting high school students who can take classes and graduate from high school with a nurse’s certificate.

“We are helping them at a younger age to spark interest in healthcare pathways,” said Reva Stroud, health science technology coordinator and nurse assistant programs at Gateway. .

Stroud has watched, with optimism, hourly wages for nurse assistants rising from $9 an hour to about $15. But in the years that she directs the show, she says, fewer and fewer students choose to start their careers as aides, a position crucial to nursing home operations. Instead, they are choosing to work at Walmart, McDonald’s or Amazon.

“There is a lot of competition to relieve stress,” says Stroud. A staunch believer in the virtues of nursing, she was not pleased with her students’ answers: “Well, I can go crate and not have to worry about someone dying and making get more money”.

Even for those who want to become a nurse, being a picker and packer at Amazon has a strong appeal. The company covers 100% of nursing school tuition, among other fields, and has contracted with community colleges to provide the learning.

Amazon is putting Kayla Dennis, 30, into nursing school. She attended a nursing assistant class at Gateway but decided to choose a career as a nurse assistant or certified nursing assistant. Instead, she worked at the Amazon fulfillment center in Hebron, Kentucky, making $20.85 an hour with health insurance and retirement benefits while attending school to become a registered nurse. sign up, a position that requires more training with high earning potential.

Dennis said: “Amazon is paying 100% of my school fees and books. “On top of that, they work around my school schedule.”

Waiting for the Rising Tide

The nursing home workforce shortage is not a primary concern for state and local economic development agencies, who are eagerly pursuing deals with Amazon. Cities across the country have offered billions of dollars in tax breaks, infrastructure upgrades, and other incentives to score a website, and the loot is plenty: Amazon has opened at least 250 warehouses this year alone.

Amazon has become a prominent force in northern Kentucky, reinventing the landscape with massive warehouses and driving payments at Walmart, fast food franchises and other warehouse companies. The company has “made a significant investment in our community,” said Lee Crume, chief executive officer of Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp. “It’s hard for me to say something negative.”

An Amazon representative did not respond to requests for interview for this story.

Some labor experts say Amazon’s “spillover effect” – increasing wages near their centers – suggests that companies can afford to pay workers a higher rate without do not have to stop business.

Clemens Noelke, a research scientist at Brandeis University, says that’s true – in a way. Because Amazon indiscriminately draws workers from across the low-wage sector, instead of tapping into a specific skill profile, it is hitting wildly different areas of adaptability. Industries such as nursing homes, home health agencies and even public schools that depend on government funding and are hampered in raising wages are likely to suffer losses.

“There are some employers who are at a profit level and they are going to be pushed out of business,” says Noelke.

A survey conducted in November by the Kentucky Association of Healthcare Facilities found that 3 in 5 skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities, and care homes are concerned about closures due to job vacancies.

The solutions put forward by state legislators largely rely on nurse training programs already offered by community colleges like Gateway. Republican Representative Kimberly Poore Moser, a registered nurse who chairs the state’s Health and Family Services Committee, said while lawmakers must take health care jobs seriously, We have a finite amount of dollars. If we raised wages for one sector of the healthcare population, what would we cut? ”

Moser said Kentucky’s bet on the Amazon will eventually work out. “The more we pump into our economy, the bigger our Medicaid budget will be,” she said.

The reliance on an all-vessel tidal approach disappointed Johnson, president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities. Legislators have difficulty funding a nursing home, she said, noting that Kentucky’s Medicaid reimbursement rate has stagnated at a 1/10th of 1% increase for five years, before receiving it. larger increase to offset inflation in the past two years.

The Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act, still before Congress, would channel billions of dollars into home and community-based care services for seniors, largely through payments. federal Medicaid bill. It includes funding aimed at stimulating recruitment and training. But the measure is largely focused on expanding in-home care, and it remains unclear how it might affect nursing home pay rates.

For now, the feeding frenzy continues. Just off Interstate 65 in Shepherdsville, Wendy’s, White Castle and Frisch’s Big Boy dangle offers of “work today, pay tomorrow”. FedEx signs along the grass media that once advertised $17 an hour are being acquired with a higher offer of $23. Amazon’s giant warehouse is bustling with workers wearing yellow protective suits.

And in nearby Mount Washington, Sherrie Wathen, administrator of the Green Meadows nursing home, straining to fill dozens of vacancies, knows she can’t fit Amazon’s package for top-level positions. into his own. Instead, Wathen, who started her own nursing career at age 18, tells prospective employees to consider life at a factory: “You’ll have the same day.”

At the nursing home, she said, “I’m the only family this lady has. I make an impact rather than packing an item in a box. “

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