New York Lawmakers Move to Establish Minimum Staff Requirements at Nursing Homes

In response to the increase in for-profit nursing homes and recent data on nursing staff levels across the state, New York lawmakers plan to introduce a bill establishing minimum levels of nursing staff at long-term care facilities across the state. According to state legislators, under-staffing remains a serious problem at New York nursing homes and directly contributes to a lower quality of care for their elderly residents. Originally drafted two years ago, Republicans in the state legislature blocked the measure. However, with Democrats set to control all branches of government next year, the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act will likely become law.

The proposed legislation will establish a minimum ratio of nursing staff to patients, which will vary by the level of care required for the patient. For patients undergoing active rehabilitation at a nursing home, there cannot be less than one nurse or nursing assistant for each patient. Further, the bill would require a nurse to spend an average of 291 minutes with each patient every day. According to The Buffalo News, this would be a significant change for most nursing homes. According to the newspaper’s analysis, only 8 percent of New York nursing homes currently satisfy these requirements.

According to state legislators, the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act is desperately needed. In the last decade, the nursing home industry has rapidly consolidated and come under the umbrella of for-profit corporations, which typically reduce nursing staff and provide an overall lower quality of care to maximize their profits. Further, recent data released by the federal government shows that staffing levels at nursing homes have been overstated in recent years. In addition to Democratic support, the bill is supported by nursing unions and elder care advocates.

Unsurprisingly, the nursing home industry opposes the bill, which it described as “heavy-handed regulation” to The Buffalo News. According to their estimates, the bill will cost at least $1 billion a year – a hefty sum which will be paid by increased Medicare payments funded by New York taxpayers. In their reasoning, “one-size-fits-all” mandate is the wrong approach and the state should focus on training nursing staff. According to nursing home owners, the low rates of nursing staff are due to a shortage of available employees. Regardless of their gripes, the fate of the bill appeared to be sealed this week when Gov. Cuomo said he intends to sign the bill into law next year.

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