Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President at a Roundtable Discussion on Nursing Home Care in La Crosse, Wisconsin

April 22, 2024

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, it's good to be with everyone and to be back in Wisconsin. And I — is this on? (Referring to the microphone.) It doesn't seem like it is. Is this — is the mic working?

Well, I can project. How about that?

(The microphone is turned on.) Okay. There we are.

It is good to see everyone here. And I'm really looking forward to this conversation, mostly because of the announcements we are making today, which, I will say to the head of SEIU and all of the SEIU leaders and the — the workers who are here, we all know the — what we're announcing today is long overdue and we still have more work to do. (Applause.)

But it is a milestone, and it is something we should celebrate, because it is — it is not happening without the kind of leadership that we have seen historically and currently from SEIU and all of the workers. So, I thank you all.

I want to thank the administrator, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. I've been working with her during the course of our administration. She is bold. She is impatient. (Laughs.) She knows things need to get done, and she pushes that they will get done. And so, I'm so glad that you're here today with us.

Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, April Verrett, I want to thank you for your leadership always.

And then, I know we have Mark Pocan here. Where — (applause) — oh, right over there. Right over there. I want to thank you for your work in the United States Congress. I get a chance to see you all the time, and you're always fighting for the people of Wisconsin. And I thank you for that. Thank you.

So, today's conversation really is about the — the safety, the dignity, the guarantee of self-determination that comes with the work that home healthcare workers and care workers do.

Today is about recognizing the gift that home healthcare workers and care workers give to us as a society.

You know, it's now over a decade ago that I spent a day with an SEIU member, Wendy Ko. And I will tell those who don't or have not witnessed firsthand this work what an extraordinary day that was.

I saw an individual, Wendy Ko, who started and ended her day with the most extraordinary work that required physical strength and — and work, emotional work, the work that comes with caring, and the amount of output, then, that is required to care about someone in a way that, again, is about uplifting their day and giving them dignity and giving them the respect that they rightly deserve.

Home healthcare workers, the physical part of their work includes literally helping people get up out of bed, changing the sheets so that that person, if they are bound to a bed, can — can have that kind of safety and — and dignity that comes with caring for people.

It's about helping people go to the restroom.

It's about cooking for people. It's about asking the person that they're caring for "what would you like to eat today," and trying to give them something that they know they might enjoy and that they will eat and have a taste for, right? Like, really caring about people to ask.

It's about helping people get dressed in the clothing that makes them comfortable and doesn't irritate them.

It's about saying to them, "Hey, it's a sunny day today. Let's go outside and take a walk, or I'll take you to the park."

It's the kind of care that really comes from a very special place of — of humanity. And the value of this work — not only to the individual they're caring for, but the value of this work to that individual's family and to us as a society — cannot be understated.

And so, I am —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo! (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: And so, I am so grateful to our home healthcare workers, to our care workers, to the members of SEIU for the work you do every day. And again, I say, it is about time that we start to recognize your value and pay you accordingly and give you the structural support that you deserve. (Applause.)

So, here's the situation right now. There are approximately 1.2 million Americans who are living in federally funded nursing homes. And so — and that's about four out of five of the nursing homes in our country. Okay? So, the vast majority of nursing homes are federally funded.

And the majority of federally funded nursing homes are understaffed. The estimate is 75 percent of those nursing homes are understaffed. And understand what that means for the resident of that nursing home.

It means that there may be no one available to help them out of bed. It means there may be no one available when they fall. It means that they will receive less medical attention because the workers — the care workers in that facility are going from room to room, from resident to resident, and understaffed in terms of giving folks what they want to give in terms of level of care.

It means more loneliness when we're talking about anyone from our seniors to people with disabilities who are in those homes and who want and enjoy the interactions that they have with these care workers.

For caregivers, it means that in the midst of this noble and selfless work that they do, that they don't get paid enough for the kind of work that they need to cover, and it means that they have less ability to — to do what they want to do and, frankly, their life calling, which is to care for other people.

And I just want to remind everybody — I know a lot of us don't like to remember the height of COVID, but our — our care workers were — were do- — you know, and then — and it was right, at the time, that we would talk about frontline workers and people would be out on their balconies banging pots to thank them. Well, we need to thank them every day, not just during the height of a crisis, because the work they do is that essential.

And so, the two announcements that we are making today recognize that we owe you, those workers, so much more than applauding you. We owe you more than that structurally and in our system.

So, for the first time, we are establishing — the first time in the history of our country, we are establishing national minimum staffing standards for federally funded nursing homes. (Applause.)

And, again, for residents, this will mean more staff, which means fewer ER visits potentially, more independence for families. It's going to mean peace of mind in terms of your loved one being taken care of. And for care workers, it's going to be more time with their patients, less burnout, and lower turnover.

Second, our announcement is about a new requirement to help increase pay for home healthcare workers. (Applause.) And so, that means a new requirement to help raise pay for home healthcare workers.

So, Medicaid currently pays $125 billion a year to home healthcare companies, which is hundreds of thousands of workers. However, before this change in the system, which means forever, home care companies were not required to report how their federal dollars were being spent.

Now, we are requiring that 80 percent of that money be spent on paying workers as opposed to administrative overhead costs. (Applause.)

And, again, I'll close by saying this. This is about dignity. And it's about the dignity that we as a society owe to those, in particular, who care for the least of these. This is — if you'll pardon this, but thi- — this is God's work — (laughs) — to care for people who often you've never met before, they're not related to you, and you care for them as though they're a member of your family.

And I think everybody would want them for themselves or a member of their family. And so, let's recognize the gift that these talented professionals give to families and to all of us as a society.

And with that, I thank you all. And I am now going to turn it over to April Verrett.

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President at a Roundtable Discussion on Nursing Home Care in La Crosse, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/371376

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