Save Lives? Give Healthcare Workers Raises

New Orleans       Hey, bosses of healthcare workers, listen up!  Yo, consumers and families of healthcare services, pay attention to this, like your life is at stake, since for more than half of you over 65, it is, because you will end up in long-term care.  Policy peeps and political hacks, heads up:  pay attention in class.  What’s up?  There’s some news we can use thanks to some deep data analysis and research done by economist Krista Ruffini for the Minnesota Federal Reserve Bank.  (Higher Wages, Service Quality, and Firm Profitability: Evidence from Nursing Homes and Minimum Wage Reforms)

Here’s the bottom line:  Ruffini found that a 10% increase in the minimum wages for direct care staff in nursing homes led to less turnover, fewer inspection deficiencies, and 15,000 lives saved.  Yes, those of us who represent direct health care workers in nursing homes and community care facilities have always told you so, but now, finally, someone has marshaled the facts behind our arguments.  Ruffini in her paper notes that most previous research has been in production and retail work, so now we’re getting our due.

Furthermore, there was no evidence in her research that smaller healthcare operators went out of business nor that jobs were lost, nor were there regional differences.  The only downside is that operators increased their prices somewhat to cover the wage increases and tried to enroll more private patients, but frankly they have been doing that anyway without sharing much with the workers, so it’s more like a scratch, and less like a wound.

Some of this isn’t news exactly.  Ruffini notes that her work aligns other studies that have found that increasing pay for public employees like hospital workers improves “service quality” and for teachers “improves test scores.”

In another comment close to our beating union hearts, she notes that “…unionization decreases staffing levels but does not worsen patient outcomes, suggesting labor market policies can alter worker productivity in this sector.”  That’s interesting as well, especially when compared to the sound and fury of employers every time we launch an organizing drive in health care facilities.  She also found that such wage increase didn’t alter the “demographics” of the workforce nor the did it change the level of “credentialed” staffing, which is another way of telling employers that they would still be hiring from the same local racialized and gender-dominated labor pool, which might make them panic less.

Does any of this really matter, and will it mean more in the pockets of lower-waged direct care workers?  I’m betting yes.  The pandemic has raised public understanding of the necessity and existence of essential workers, while also underlining the fact that nursing home and other direct healthcare workers face hotspots.  Employers have had to respond in many cases with more protection for workers, pay increases, and hazardous duty pay.  Studies like Ruffini’s may make it harder to reduce wages, allowing direct care workers to hold onto these gains and convert them permanently, improving their lives and saving lives at the same time.  A rare, but welcome, win-win.

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Please enjoy Magnolia Road by The Allman Betts Band.

Thanks to WAMF.

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