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Tonawanda nursing home workers protest lack of protective gear

About 20 workers at Safire Rehabilitation of Northtowns protested Friday afternoon outside the facility about a lack of Covid-19 personal protective equipment for employees.

The nurses and other workers have been caring for residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus at the nursing home in the Town of Tonawanda, according to the 1199SEIU union, which represents them. Several employees have tested positive and are in quarantine.

A representative of the owners said the union's protest was prompted not by safety hazards, but by contract negotiations.

“The facts are that there are no more than five Covid-positive residents that are in isolation in the facility," said Michael Balboni, a spokesman for the owners. "The fact is that there is a 12-day supply of masks, gowns, gloves, booties and face shields with more on the way. They have 3,000 masks and N95 masks for workers that are providing direct care to Covid-positive patients. Any employee who tests positive is at home and getting paid."

He said the 1199SEIU contract for union workers at Safire of Northtowns expires in May, and that is why the union organized the protest.

Union officials said that the downstate investors who own the nursing home – which is rated by the federal government as a one-star facility, or "much below average" – have rebuffed the 1199SEIU's calls for safety training and more fitted masks and other personal protective equipment.

1199SEIU obtained about 30 KN95 masks and this week began to provide fit testing for some workers at Safire of the Northtowns, the union said.

“It is obviously not enough,” said Todd Hobler, the 1199SEIU vice president. “At nursing homes like this one, we need the government to step in and make sure that every caregiver has the personal protective equipment that they need to keep themselves and their residents safe. It is pretty clear here that the owners are not going to do it on their own.”

Workers stayed about 6 feet away from each other as they protested on the sidewalk in front of the nursing home.

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