How to Fix Oversight Problem at New York Nursing Homes

New York’s Department of Health appears unable to adequately monitor the nursing homes across the state and hold poor performers accountable. Elder care advocates say the state agency must reform to protect senior citizens from poor care and nursing home abuse. Thankfully, legislators in Albany appear to finally be listening.

According to The Buffalo News, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples Stokes is co-sponsoring a bill regulating the number of nurses at each assisted care facility in the state. The appropriately named Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act would mandate that each nursing home have RNs (registered nurses) and that practical nurses and CNAs (certified nursing assistants) spend a minimum of 291 minutes with each resident. According to federal data, nursing staff levels are the largest indicator of whether a nursing home is providing quality care to its residents. Unfortunately, the same federal data shows that most nursing homes are grossly deficient when it comes to staffing. According to a study released in January 2019, only 7.5 percent of nursing homes across the state currently satisfy the requirements laid out in the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.

Unsurprisingly, nursing home operators are against the proposed legislation which they say will cost an extra $1 billion each year. The industry says these costs will likely be passed on to consumers through higher Medicaid payments. Opponents of the legislation also describe the proposed law as too narrow and short-sighted, reasoning that the law does not consider nurse practitioners or physical and occupational therapists. Moreover, it imposes a strict nursing quota on some nursing homes that already provide excellent care to their residents. Instead of an expensive, one-size-fits-all law, opponents of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act say that legislation focused on reforming the New York Department of Health and targeting nursing homes with a record of low-quality care would be more effective and cost-efficient.

Opponents of the law correctly point out that New York should do more to overhaul the ineffective nursing home regulator and prioritize nursing homes that are neglecting or abusing their residents. However, this does not necessarily mean the legislation introduced last month should be so easily disregarded. Currently, the Department of Health can only cite a nursing home for insufficient staffing if the level is so low that it “places residents at risk.” Considering the correlation between nursing staff and quality of care, New York’s nursing home patients deserve a bar set much higher.

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