It is doubtful that the framers of the constitution, when they drafted the First Amendment, had any idea that ensuring the “right of people to peaceably assemble” would include a virtual Zoom meeting where the assembly appears on hundreds of computer or phone screens.

It is also equally doubtful the framers could have imagined that caring for elders in nursing homes would one day be among the most dangerous jobs in this country.

Yet here we are in 2021, and certified nursing assistants, those closest to elders, have been diligently doing their jobs in nursing homes and other settings for the last 12 months, while being the lowest paid employee on staff. 

Indeed, CNAs have made numerous sacrifices during the pandemic. Many have contracted COVID-19, and some have died. Yet they continue to risk their lives every day, often for less than they could make in food service or retail, all for the love of their residents. 

This is why we are gathering for the first CNA Virtual March in Washington today between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET. The march is not just about expressing appreciation and gratitude to CNAs; it is also about addressing policy issues aimed at respecting CNAs, their work and their worth, as follows: 

  • Raising CNA wages via Medicaid pass-throughs: Wage pass-throughs enable nursing homes to pass on higher Medicaid reimbursements to specific groups of employees in the form of increased compensation.
  • Resuming the Nurse Aide Training & Competency Evaluation Program Requirements: NAHCA supports the elimination of temporary nurse aide training and the requirement that current TNA-enabled individuals take the remaining hours of a typical course if they want to become CNAs.
  • Addressing recruitment, retention and turnover of CNAs at the national level: The adverse impact of the pandemic on nursing homes has plunged CNAs into crises on many levels.

More than 1,000 CNAs and others have already registered for the event, which, in addition to CNAs, will feature senior living leaders, family members and even celebrities. Among those lined up to speak are:

  • Sanjeev Arora, M.D., MACP, FACG, director and founder, Project ECHO
  • Penny Cook, president and CEO, Pioneer Network
  • Terry Fulmer, Ph.D., RN, president of John A. Hartford Foundation
  • David Grabowski, Ph.D., professor of health care policy, Harvard Medical School
  • Mark Parkinson, president and CEO, American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living
  • Neil Pruitt, chairman and CEO, PruittHealth
  • Susan Ryan, senior director, The Green House Project
  • Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO, LeadingAge
  • Dave Voepel, executive director, Arizona Health Care Association

This is about empowering CNAs so that they don’t have to choose between going to work sick and staying home and missing a paycheck, between staying safe and risking their health and safety. 

Many have referred to CNAs as heroes, but that’s an easy word to say. It doesn’t mean that people understand what it takes to care for someone else, putting their health, well-being and comfort above your own day after day. CNAs deserve more than lip service; we need legislators, industry leaders, and others to commit to backing their words with action. We want to help them understand what CNAs see, feel and hear each and every day.

The march is scheduled for six hours so that CNAs on all shifts can join us, even if just for a few minutes during a break. This is a celebration with a purpose. 

The event is also being livestreamed on Facebook for those who haven’t registered. 

Lori Porter is co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants.