LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Delaware veterans suffer effects of overworked, underpaid staff

When one thinks of a nursing home, we imagine smiling faces and bright-eyed demeanors. While that may be true, there is a resentment brewing like a pressure cooker right beneath the surface.

Employees, both underpaid and overworked, face daily mandation. Nurses and CNAs, already scheduled eight- and 12-hour shifts, are being mandated to stay an additional eight and four hours, respectively. While many in administration are both qualified and able to help and ease the strain by doing some of these shifts themselves, it is overwhelmingly rare that they do.

Each year, nurses’ and nursing assistants’ weeks come and go with little to no showing of gratitude from administration. It is mutually agreed that the brave men and women who served our country are the top priority, the health and welfare of staff needs to be considered as well.

The employees who do not have the privilege of sitting in offices in front of computer screens for the duration of their shifts are at detrimentally high risk of caregiver burn-out. Yes, in the health care field, mandation is a part of the job, but it is supposed to be used as a last resort, not a daily staffing method.

Unfortunately, what administration does not understand is, it is ultimately our beloved veterans who suffer the brunt of this. There is a “trickle-down” effect that stems from unappreciated and overworked staff. If we are sick, tired, frustrated or physically injured due to our bodies being worn down daily, then there is no way we are operating at 100 percent full caregiver potential.

If the mandation itself is not enough, there is a new policy or ruling every day, that seems to undermine and nearly criminalize our right to have a voice. It has been said for decades that “employees don’t leave jobs. They leave employers.” The retention and turnover rates here at the vets home in Milford are through the roof over the past few years, so I personally must stand behind that old saying.

Shamed and penalized for utilizing “state-earned” sick and annual leave, the nursing staff at the vets home has had enough. When new nursing staff recruits are hired and resign a month later or less due to working conditions, red flags should go up. When resignation letters read “The Veterans Home has the potential to be a five-star place to work if management would listen to their employees and stand with them, as opposed to against them, when there is a daily uphill battle for basic employee rights between labor and management, unfortunately the beloved veterans are the ones who ultimately suffer the brunt of the consequences.”

All we ask is that someone takes notice of the struggles of the “forgotten majority,” those of us who actually do “the dirty work”.

While I’m sure there is somewhat of a gap between administration and labor in every workplace, that pales in comparison to the divide here at the veterans home. In order for top-notch customer service to be delivered to the veterans, who most certainly deserve it, employees need to feel respected, appreciated and that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears.

This facility is said to have an open door policy in which staff can feel comfortable approaching management with issues. Instead workers are met with retaliation/intimidation.

State merit employees are supposed to be protected by merit rules and collective bargaining agreements (if applicable) against intimidation/retaliation, but it would appear that some state agencies did not receive the memo that they are governed by these contracts.

Those employees who assert their protected rights under merit and collective bargaining rules, are oftentimes labeled as “enemy of the state,” meaning they become unjustly singled out for increased scrutiny and harsher disciplines, which leads to a hostile work environment for all.

When attempts to utilize the resources at their disposable such as human resources, union grievances, and following the chain of command all the way up to state secretary level do not yield results, employees are left wondering “where is the accountability?”

Lakeisha McKeithan
Certified Nursing Assistant
Delaware Veterans Home
Local 3936 Union President

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