Closeup of Hispanic nurse rubbing her forehead, looking tired/stressed

Connecticut long-term care operators and staff are both feeling reassured after state lawmakers expressed confidence in the legislature’s ability to find additional funding to help prevent a planned strike among thousands of workers in the coming days. 

House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney (D) during budgetary talks this week were both supportive of the state boosting the amount of funding for nursing homes to help increase worker pay and Medicaid reimbursements, the CT Mirror reported. Democrats control both the Senate and House in Connecticut, both by roughly 2-to-1 margins.

“At the end of the day, the workers that had to go into the fire … are these nursing home workers at the long-term care facilities. We have to help them,” Ritter said. 

“I think we’re both committed to finding the extra money,” added Looney. “The workers have a very strong equity argument there.”

Their remarks come after more than 3,400 union nursing home staffers at 33 facilities in the state notified its operators of plans to strike starting May 14 in a bid to leverage better staffing ratios, and increased pay and benefits. They’ve specifically called for a minimum wage of $20 an hour for all long-term care workers by 2023 among the demands.

The lawmakers’ hopeful comments are “reassuring on many levels, especially as a signal to keep all parties at the bargaining table while the state budget deliberations continue,” said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities. 

The state reportedly has $3 billion in a “rainy day” fund and is estimated to finish the current fiscal year with a surplus of $950 million, according to the Mirro report. That’s on top of $6 billion in federal COVID relief funding. 

The association has estimated Connecticut’s long-term care industry would need another $312 million in annual state Medicaid funding to offset pandemic-related costs and revenue losses. However, the estimate doesn’t take into account increased wages for workers, so the overall figure would be higher. 

“We feel that the General Assembly is pretty much on our side,” Pedro Zayas, spokesman for District 1199 New England of SEIU Healthcare, told the news agency. 

“These workers, after all they’ve been through, deserve livable wages and benefits and affordable health insurance and safe staffing levels,” he added. “The question is whether Gov. [Ned] Lamont [D] will make them a priority.”