Is Rough Worker “Care” an Indication of Bad Client Care?

Labor Organizing
Bobby Jindal talks his version of Health Care Reform

New Orleans    Here’s a dilemma.  Our union, Local 100, United Labor Unions, represents a lot of workers in the Greater New Orleans, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge areas who live in small, residential “community” homes, as they are called, who are developmentally disabled.   Some of the companies are large, some are smaller, some have been nonprofit and have become for profit, some were for profit and have become nonprofit over the years depending on the vicissitudes of the industry.  With the crises in state financing, the reimbursement rates have been frozen or reduced by Governor Bobby Jindal and his ultra-conservative, hard fisted administration.  We bargain with the companies and for the good of the clients and the workers need them to succeed and thrive.

Headlines blared out from the front page of the Times-Picayune last week as reports were issued by the Advocacy Center, a Louisiana nonprofit funded largely by the federal government, blasting 16 of the 509 homes in the state as the worst in the state.  Where the shoe pinched hardest among the organizers and leaders of Local 100 was that all 6 of the worst homes in the New Orleans area, 5 in Kenner and 1 in the city, belonged to Progressive Health Providers, one of our union companies, which converted to a nonprofit years ago.   Looking down the list, three of the homes, the two on Delaware and Fayette, are well known to me because it seems most of the grievances with PHP seem to arise at those homes.

According to the Times-Picayune the Advocacy Center report nailed these PHP-homes for “dirty conditions where holes in walls aren’t uncommen and upkeep and maintenance are spotty at best,” according to Nell Hahn, their litigation director.  The report went on to say that “most resident are not provided with dental or mental care, and there seems to be little focus on offering individualized programs to determine the skill level of every resident with the goal of integrating as many as possible into the community….”  Ouch!  Our workers literally love these clients, and though many undoubtedly didn’t read the article, it was no surprise that everyone with the union was upset.  When the Advocacy Center says that “these homes were selected because of problems that never seem to ‘get fixed’ for long…,” unfortunately, the painful truth is that that is often our experience in trying to resolve grievances and issues for the workers with the company as well.  The shoe is pinching!

Company and state spokespeople predictably pushed back at the Advocacy Center report.  The company almost seemed in their statement to be blaming the neighborhoods where the homes were located and attributing the problems to Katrina.  Frankly, it was hard to follow.

You can run, but you can’t hide.  We’ll reach out to the Advocacy Center and see what we can do as a union and as workers to fix the problems.  We’ll reach out to the company as well and see if there’s a joint project that we can propose to get on a good list and get union homes off the bad list, but it’s hard to be optimistic.  The culture of the company seems to be to resist, rather than resolve, to excuse, rather than to learn and solve, so they may see all of us as the enemy and crawl into the bunker, rather than uniting for the client.  What the report and article don’t do is clearly call out that despite the fact that PHP is a nonprofit, it is managed by a for profit company, and that may be at the heart of the problem.  Sometimes we have looked at PHP officials across the table and had to ask, “Are you really a nonprofit?”

It’s possible that the union and the workers may be more embarrassed, than the company, but somehow we all have to do better!