Hoping to pressure legislators to support a bill that would set minimum staffing ratios at nursing homes, labor union activists are planning to hold a rally at the state Capitol this week.

But instead of the traditional lobbying kickoff that such events often signify, the rally will instead aim to draw attention to an effective guerrilla campaign that the Service Employees International Union has been conducting statewide.

To turn up the heat on legislators, the union has released 15 separate reports since early April that tally alleged safety violations at state nursing homes in specific geographic areas state senate districts. And since each senate district encompasses two Assembly districts, the reports not-so-subtly put pressure on specific legislators to support minimum staffing ratios as a means of rectifying the situation.

The reports examine the number of citations that particular nursing homes received from state regulators in 1999 or 2000 for violations that caused or could potentially cause significant harm to patients.

While the statistics have been public record, this is the first time they are being aggregated for political purposes.

"These reports make the problems in nursing homes a little bit more personal," said Lisa Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the SEIU, which claims understaffing at nursing homes is the cause of many safety problems.

"If you are a state Senator or Assembly member, and there 50 nursing homes in your district, and you know their level of care, it makes it more difficult to avoid the issue."

The campaign in favor of the bill to set minimum staffing ratios in nursing homes, AB 1025, got a boost when the state Attorney General's Office independently released its own report finding potential criminal violations at seven of 28 nursing homes after surprise inspections last year.

Publicity surrounding the union reports is understandably drawing the ire of the nursing home industry, which contends that the reports do not paint a realistic portrait of life inside the homes.

"It's very frustrating. The survey system in California is a system that is out of control. There are more than 900 individual items that a facility gets checked on," said Betsy Hite, a spokeswoman for the California Association of Health Facilities, the industry trade group. "A (used) tissue on the floor can be a potential to cause harm, because it can be a potential to cause disease. I would really like to be able to see a report that tells me if there truly is a safe environment for my loved one."

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