At noon Tuesday outside Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, members of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East held a rally advocating for investments and reforms against worker shortages, and for a caregiver wage higher than the state minimum wage. A particular focus of the approximately 20 ralliers was to also call for the passage of bill S1154 in the Massachusetts Senate.
The bill, introduced in the legislature this February, would support educating and training through a Hospital Workforce Training and Apprenticeship Trust Fund. The fund would supply grants to eligible healthcare providers, labor-management training funds, community colleges, and other entities. Grants would enable worker retention through support for housing, childcare, behavioral health, and similar concerns. Bill advocates say it would help to plug gaps in the healthcare system.
Under harsh sunlight, ralliers, many on break from work at the hospital, heard speeches from other healthcare workers, as well as from Rep. Dylan Fernandes of the Massachusetts State Senate.
Molly Purves, clinician at the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Island Counseling Center, spoke about short-staffing issues.
“I am one of 12 full-time clinicians, and we have seven part-time clinicians … At the start of the pandemic, there were 23 full-time clinicians and five part-time,” Purves said.
When staff departs for private practice or due to being overwhelmed, Purves said, their caseloads are taken on by the rest of the staff: “Most people have a caseload of anywhere from about 35 to 45 people, so if they leave, the rest of us need to absorb those people.” This results in longer wait times, added Purves.
“Some people on the waitlist … get pushed out a bit longer,” she said. “So people waiting for care aren’t getting it.”
Purves also shared that this impacts quality of care, resulting in less time per patient for healthcare workers, and less ability to follow up.
Rep. Fernandes, attending with his Island liaison Kaylea Moore, spoke to the value of healthcare work, as well as to national economic inequality. “We need unions to stand up for corporate greed, to stand up for those — the vast majority of us — that need a voice and don’t have a voice when it comes to negotiation for higher wages, better benefits, and we need that here in the healthcare industry in a really, really dramatic way,” stated Fernandes.
Representative Fernandes then told the crowd, “We’ll be champions in the legislature for you guys,” and encouraged them to reach out to him or Moore.
Delrose Reid, a certified nursing assistant at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, also spoke at the rally. Reid transitioned from housekeeping to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Mass General Brigham refunded her the cost of CNA training. “This program allows me to advance in the medical profession and earn a higher salary,” said Reid. “S1154 [is] a bill that will address many of the issues raised here today across the state, including worker training and apprenticeship,” she added.
Teia Searcy, political organizer for SEIU 1199 and former homecare worker, hopes to see S1154 pass in this legislative session: “There is one more year left of the session, and we’re hoping that working with our legislative champions, we can help stand with healthcare workers … these investments are critical, and needed now.”
For Reid, an immigrant from Jamaica, joining a union has been key to upward mobility. “I’ve come into this country three years ago, and I got a job, and [1199 SEIU] has helped me so much to transition,” said Reid.
She also hopes that more people will have the opportunity to further their expertise through training. “If there’s any training going on, I’m going to grab at it … It has helped me so much, so I would like other persons to benefit from a program like this,” said Reid.
Following the rally, hospital CEO and president Denise Schepici issued a public statement. “Our entire leadership team values the perspectives and concerns of all our colleagues. We maintain ongoing, meaningful discussions with a variety of stakeholders, including 1199 SEIU, in addressing challenges and opportunities in the healthcare industry,” she said. “We remain committed to working collaboratively on solutions that benefit both our staff and the community we serve. Providing our community with the highest-quality care possible remains our top priority.”