Nurse aids are sick and tired

Kari Hoffman has worked at Hillside Health Care Center in Missoula's South Hills for more than 20 years helping to care for elderly and disabled patients, and now she's hoping her employer will take better care of her. The full-time certified nursing assistant hasn't seen a raise of more than 20 cents an hour in over a year, and says she couldn't have raised her three children without food stamps and housing assistance. She adds that she's not the only employee in such a position.

"Most of the single moms here have kids on Medicaid and they rely on public assistance for most everything else. It's just normal here," says Hoffman, 53.

Hoffman and her fellow workers are currently in a contract renegotiation with the company that manages Hillside, The Goodman Group. Their labor contract ended June 30, but has been temporarily extended through the negotiation process.

UNITE HERE Local 427 representative Mark Anderlik says employee complaints are as much about how residents are treated as they are. He claims Hillside staff are often forced to buy or borrow supplies from other facilities and sometimes the same meals are served to residents for days on end. He also says that worker turnover is so high that many, like Hoffman, end up working extra shifts to meet the state's minimum staff requirements.

Anderlik says the union's specifically negotiating for increased staffing, more supplies, better food options, more affordable health insurance and a raise.

"We're asking for a dollar an hour raise and they've countered with 6 to 15 cents," he says.

The Goodman Group is a privately held company based out of Minneapolis specializing in residential communities and health centers. In addition to Hillside, the company manages two other facilities in Missoula and several others in Montana.

Paul Teagle, regional director of operations for The Goodman Group, says he cannot comment on ongoing negotiations. He does add, "Our number one priority is our employees and our residents."

See also: The Goodman Group responded to claims by union representatives with a July 25 letter to the editor.

This story was updated Friday, July 19, to correct Paul Teagle's name.
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