Nursing home workers set to get hazard pay after nearly two years of pandemic work – Times Herald-Record

GOSHEN – Jane Sanok remembers feeling nervous going to work each day in the early weeks of the pandemic, when a frightening new virus was spreading quickly among vulnerable nursing home residents and the workers who care for them.

Her housekeeping job at the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation now involved emptying contaminated linens and bags of disposable trays and plates from two red barrels that had been placed at the beds of each resident infected with COVID-19.

Loads of linens weighed as much as 20 pounds. Plastic bags would split open, spilling their contaminated contents. Sanok hustled in full protective gear, so hot in her gown in summer she would be drenched in sweat when her shift ended.

Valley View employee Jane Sanok talks about her work, standing outside of Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation in Goshen, on Monday, Jan. 12, 2022.

“It was just a continual cleaning, sanitizing,” recalled Sanok, a 34-year employee of the 360-bed, county-run nursing home, Orange County’s largest.

She herself caught COVID, then returned to Valley View after two weeks at home.

“We had people to take care of, and we just took that deep breath and got to work,” she said.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, Sanok and other nursing home workers who risked exposure each day and witnessed the virus’ devastating toll on the frail and elderly are in line to get hazard pay, a form of recognition many of their counterparts in hospitals got much earlier.

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Valley View employees Jane Sanok, left, and Lisa McGill hold a letter addressed to county legislators as they stand outside of Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation in Goshen, on Jan. 12, 2022.

At the end of this month, more than 2,600 employees of 36 privately owned nursing homes across the Hudson Valley are set to receive up to $1,500 per person under a contract deal negotiated with their union, the Service Employees International Union 1199. All worked for at least 90 days during the pandemic.

Next up in the region is likely to be Valley View, where most of the workers are county employees and represented by a different union. In their case, the payments would come not through contract talks but an expenditure by the county Legislature, which took up the idea in December and is expected to resume the discussion.

A serious wrinkle in that debate is the amount.

James O’Donnell, the lawmaker who broached the idea, proposed paying employees $5 for each day they worked at Valley View over 21 months, which could total as high as $2,000.

But for Sanok and some other employees who labored through a series of COVID-19 waves, comforting dying residents whose families couldn’t be there, $5 a day seems too low, almost an insult.

Valley View employees Lisa McGill talks with Jane Sanok outside of Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation in Goshen on Jan. 12, 2022.

“We did what we had to do,” Sanok said. “The county should do that for us.”

The belated bonuses are being taken up as both hospitals and nursing homes are struggling to hire and retain nurses and aides, a problem that predated the pandemic in the case of nursing homes. With the recent COVID surge straining some upstate hospitals, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed this month that the state offer health care workers $3,000 bonuses if they stay in their jobs for at least a year.

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