Mr. Vertu, 33, the dietary aide, said he gets paid about $9.80 an hour, a salary he says has remained roughly unchanged since he started working 14 years ago. Ms. Julceus, who is a certified nurse, earns about $12 an hour.
Sheryl Carlos, 56, works three jobs seven days a week in Port St. Lucie, north of West Palm Beach. One is at a nursing home and another at a retirement community; she earns extra income caring for a couple of people in private homes. She makes about $13 an hour.
“Let me tell you something, I don’t have a life,” she said recently as she drove back home in the early morning after finishing a nine-hour shift. “If some jobs were paying you enough, you wouldn’t have to be working like that.”
Nursing home advocates say that most facilities have little control over what other jobs staff have. It is hard to raise wages, they say, when revenue is fixed by the state or Medicare.
“There are really good owners out there who do a good job and try to pay people more,” said Dr. Alice Bonner, who advises on care of older adults at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
“But if you’re getting mostly Medicaid clients in your nursing home, and you’re getting very little money for those clients, and it’s not covering your costs, then it’s really hard to increase salaries and benefits too.”
In May and early June, one of Mr. Vertu and Ms. Julceus’s employers, Avante at Lake Worth Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing, fired them on the grounds that they had violated policy by coming to work even though they had the coronavirus, according to the employees and their union, which has filed grievances over the dismissals.