ALBANY PARK — Employees of one nursing home group, fed up with low pay, lack of hazard pay and being forced to work in dangerous conditions, went out on strike Monday, just as the city is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Nearly 700 nursing home workers employed by Infinity Healthcare Management and are members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois went on strike. Infinity operates 11 facilities across the Chicago area and six in the city.
The strike comes on the same day the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living released a study saying nursing homes in the Midwest are experiencing a 275 percent increase in cases since September.
Throughout the pandemic, nursing homes have been the source of a high percentage of COVID-19 cases around the country, and Chicago is no exception. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there have been 43,233 total COVID-19 cases in long-term facilities across the state and 5,782 deaths. That’s almost half of all COVID-19 deaths in the state.
On Monday, outside the Ambassador Nursing & Rehab Center, located at 4900 N. Bernard St. in Albany Park, several employees picketed and called for the nursing home to increase their pay and to pay them hazard pay.
“The employer believes hazard pay should go only to people who work directly with COVID patients although people have died in every department. It’s hazardous for everyone so we should be getting hazard pay. Another issue is around pay. This employer pays $2 less per hour than what every nursing home in Chicago is paying,” SEIU VP and Director of the union’s nursing home division Shabu Andrich said.
Patricia Johnson, a certified nursing assistant who commutes on public transportation every day from South Shore to her job in Albany Park, said her biggest concern is safety.
“Safety, not only for me but for these residents because I’ve been with them a long time,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who has worked at Ambassador for 22 years, said she believes she caught coronavirus in January because she was sick early in the year before it was on the radar and later tested positive for antibodies.
“I was feeling really, really bad. I had to miss work and just wanted to lay down,” Johnson said.
Having gotten through it, she now fears for her residents, who she does not think are getting adequate care during the workers strike.
“We see these people and work them every day. For a stranger to come in and try to take care of you, that has to be traumatic for them,” Johnson said.
She also said lack of PPE has been an issue.
“During the first wave, we wasn’t getting no PPE. The second wave, people started donating it,” Johnson said.
Infinity Healthcare Management did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.
SEIU VP and Director of the union’s nursing home division Shabu Andrich said negotiations between the nursing home and employees remain far apart.
“We are very, very far apart. We tried to get together with the owner yesterday but was told he was traveling,” Andrich said.
While COVID-19 continues to be a big issue inside nursing homes, the AHCH/NCAL study said nursing home outbreaks will likely not stop until outbreaks in the surrounding community are halted.
“Trying to protect nursing home residents without controlling community spread is a losing battle,” said long-term care expert Tamara Konetzka of the University of Chicago in the study. However, the SEIU employees on strike believe their employer can and should be doing more to protect them.
At Ambassador, employees were being tested twice a week and residents were being tested once a month, Johnson said. Despite that, several of Infinity’s nursing homes have had COVID-19 cases.
The following are a list of Infinity-owned nursing homes within the city limits and their COVID-19 numbers, according to the IDPH:
- Continental Nursing at Rehabilitation Center, 5336 N. Western Ave., 78 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths.
- Belhaven Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 11401 S. Oakley Ave., 101 cases and 9 deaths.
- Lakeview Nursing and Rehab, 735 W Diversey Ave., 90 cases and 20 deaths.
- Parkshore Estates, 6125 S. Kenwood Ave., 27 cases and no deaths.
- Southpoint Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 1010 W. 95th St., 81 cases and 11 deaths.
- Ambassador Nursing & Rehab Center, 4900 N. Bernard St., 114 cases and 9 deaths.
Felicia Bryant, an SEIU Internal Organizer with the union’s nursing home division, stood with employees at Continental Nursing at Rehabilitation Center, 5336 N. Western Ave. in Budlong Woods and called on the families of residents to help.
“Nobody wants to strike, we understand it hurts the residents,” Bryant said. “Reach out to the owner. Call the owner and pressure him to pay us and ensure their loved ones get good care.”
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