ctnewsjunkie file photo
Careene Reid, a healthcare worker at a press conference last month (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

On the same day that 600 more nursing home workers joined 2,500 others who are ready to strike on June 3, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration endorsed a 4% increase in state Medicaid funding over the next four years.

However, some of the 3,000 workers in purple shirts who showed up Monday at the state Capitol don’t know if that will be enough to avert a strike.

“As health care workers, our labor is a labor of love, but you can’t eat love,” Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 New England, said Monday at what turned out to be a rally inside the state Capitol.

Melissa McCaw, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, wrote a letter Monday to the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and Leading Age to tell them that Lamont supports increasing Medicaid rates by 2% in July 2019, 1% in October 2019 and 1% in January 2021. The increases, which were not originally in Lamont’s budget, will be in addition a 2% increase in November 2018 that was earmarked for nursing home worker wages and benefits, McCaw wrote.

The funding “as has been the practice in the past, must be used to enhance employee wages and benefits, though nursing homes may request certain exceptions to this from the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, if necessary,” McCaw wrote.

Nursing home workers have not seen much of an increase in wages in years.

“We pray for immediate action from our elected officials to fund wage increases for nursing home workers. We had no raise in 2016. No raise in 2017. A 27-cent raise for me in 2018. And no raise coming our way in 2019 and 2020,” said Careene Reid, a certified nursing assistant at Trinity Hill Care Center. “We demand the required funding from our state leaders. Our caregivers, as well as our patients and residents, and their families deserve better. But now we know we’ll have to fight in Union to get the modest raises that we ask for.”

The Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities hopes it will be enough to avoid a strike.

“Nursing home residents, employees and operators can rest a little easier tonight knowing that Governor Lamont and Secretary McCaw have made increased Medicaid funding for Connecticut nursing homes a priority at this critical time,” Matthew V. Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/Connecticut Center for Assisted Living, said. “It’s especially important leadership from the Lamont administration to recognize these needs given the state’s ongoing fiscal challenges.”

The union estimates that the 4% raises would cost $40 million annually, but say a large portion of the raises would be covered by Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

Wages for nursing home workers have grown, on average 2%, over the past four years.

Caregivers are also facing lower staffing ratios at nursing homes, and residents who require higher levels of care as the state’s population ages.

Jack Kramer contributed to this report.