This morning, Assemblyman Troy Singleton spent two hours at Cinnaminson Center Nursing Home - in his 7th Legislative District. He took a tour of the building with some people who work there and leaders of the union that represent them, 1199SEIU. He stopped along the way, to take up the tasks the workers were engaged in, taking care of the medically frail and elderly folks that live there. With one worker, he helped vacuum the floor, with another he delivered mid-morning snacks (chocolate milk, pudding, other treats, depending on diet). And he set the table for the residents' lunch, which workers do every day there. In therapy, he helped with the trivia questions that help keep old minds alert, and saw what it's like to help people in wheelchairs work out.
We need more of this. To be sure, there's an element of a good politician upping his profile in his District. But honestly, if we had more people spending their time this way, going out to see just what happens in people's lives after they sponsor a bill or cast a vote, our decision makers would make better decisions.
Yonette Vails, a certified nursing assistant (C.N.A.):
I think it is so important that the people who make decisions about funding our nursing home see the extent of care that we give to the residents. We don't only provide care. We provide support and companionship that is so critical to the health and well-being of our residents.
You know what C.N.A.s make? About $11-13 dollars an hour. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of our electeds knew what it was like to work hard for elders, take them to get washed and to the bathroom, make sure they're eating and drinking. To be that intimate with people who need you every day - for $11/hour and benefits that often have to be fought for? I'd like to see all our legislators do this, and each union offer it. Imagine what it would be like to watch Chris Christie get through a day of teaching math, or music or world history. He wouldn't know what to do beyond exercising his authority.
Last year, the Christie administration imposed massive cuts in nursing home allocations. Singleton says in real terms that meant the loss of programs to enrich residents' lives, and fewer day trips out into the community. But in hardhship, he says. both administration and staff at Cinnaminson tried to compensate, dipping into their own pockets sometimes to run to the dollar store for enough toiletries for the residents. This year, the Legislature restored funding (Gary Schaer, prime sponsor, Singleton also a sponsor), easing things for both residents and workers. Singleton told Blue Jersey:
This is, to me, the most important part of my job - to be as close as I can to the residents of my District. They're my bosses. I have 200,000 of them. Rather than dealing with issues in the abstract as we do on the Budget Committee, to really see what the impact is of what we do in the legislature, means a lot to me. It strengthens my resolve.
SEIU's Milly Silva was there:
We're so thankful Assemblyman Singleton took the time to come to not only see what the workers do but to speak to them one on one about it, and to talk to the residents - this is their home. It demonstrates leadership on his part to walk the walk not only in Trenton but where those decisions matter.
Allies like Assemblyman Singleton understand that properly funding the nursing home industry not only allows our members to provide quality care, but to do so with the peace of mind that comes with the protections of health benefits, a secure retirement and a decent wage.
Singleton comes from a Labor background; he's a member of United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) Millwright Local 715, and son of a Teamster. But every legislator should take up an invitation like this one. SEIU calls this their "Walk a Day in My Shoes" program. The goal? To get every elected official to experience firsthand what life is like for working people.
Last year there were similar visits from Sen. Sandra Cunningham and her LD-31 Democratic colleague Asm Jason O'Donnell, as well as Republican Sen. Samuel D. Thompson of LD-12. Singleton's visit this morning also included a Q & A with not only SEIU workers there, but residents. A good opportunity for civic engagement with some of the elders the assemblyman represents.