Survey Takes The Temperature Of Health Care Workers

Doctor wearing surgical mask examining man

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BOSTON (State House News Service) - Nearly 70 percent of Massachusetts health care employees have felt exhausted or burnt out by work over the past year, according to the results of a survey of union workers.

Just over 60 percent of 600 respondents said they've taken on additional tasks beyond their job description -- and only 35 percent have "easy access to affordable childcare," according to the survey conducted by EMC Research from April 24-27. It had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Massachusetts health care employees "feel pushed to the brink" as they grapple with being overworked and underpaid, while confronting heightened violence in their workplaces, according to Tim Foley, executive vice of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. The union, which sponsored the survey, represents about 80,000 home care, nursing home and hospital workers throughout the commonwealth.

"My main takeaway from this is that workers feel that they need to make more money, particularly our lower-wage workers that feel like wages are incredibly important," Foley told the News Service. "They care deeply about being in health care, they want to remain in health care, they want to make more money, they want better staffing, and they want more opportunities to develop their career. But they're on the brink of leaving the field."

The survey results captured stark differences between home care workers, including personal care attendants, and facility-based workers at hospitals, health centers and nursing homes -- with the latter category indicating the state is on the "wrong track." Only 43 percent of facility-based members, for example, responded that they feel appreciated and valued by their employers, compared to 82 percent of PCAs.

The vast majority of facility-based members -- 92 percent -- report their employer was understaffed in the past year, compared to 59 percent of PCAs. Half of the facility-based members surveyed but just 16 percent of PCAs have felt unsafe at work.

Yet survey results also found that 81 percent of overall respondents want to advance their career, with 76 percent saying they would recommend health care or home care as a "great field of work."

"I know working together with the health care community, we can address these significant issues related to the workforce and try to make sure that we get things back on track so that the system is healthy and vibrant," Foley said.

Dozens of 1199SEIU members rallied outside the State House last week for higher hourly wages and workplace protections.

Foley said the union supports legislation from Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley and Sen. Paul Mark (H 1877/ S 1203) to create a minimum hourly wage for certain hospital and community health center workers that's at least 150 percent of the statewide minimum hourly wage; as well as bills from Rep. Tram Nguyen and Sen. Robyn Kennedy (H 1231/ S 763) establishing a minimum wage for nursing home and home care agency employees, plus Chapter 257 human services providers, that's at least 140 percent of the statewide minimum wage.

Also supported by the union are proposals from Reps. Thomas Stanley and Michael Moran and Sen. Pat Jehlen (H 649 / S 380) that would bolster oversight at home care agencies and enact policies to tackle abuse among workers and clients.

The survey results serve as a "call to action" for policymakers, Foley said.

"And I know the legislative leadership understands the important issues that are facing the health care industry," he said.

Written By Alison Kuznitz/SHNS

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