New York’s Looming Legislative Battle Over Nursing Home Staffing

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A person holding a walker heads toward the entrance of a nursing home.

A new report in Gothamist examines the debate over a proposed state law setting requirements for staffing levels in New York nursing homes. The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which has previously passed the New York Assembly but has never been approved by the full state legislature, would create minimum staffing levels in the state’s hospitals and nursing homes. In hospitals, this would mean 25,000 new employees; in nursing homes, it would mean 45,000 new employees.

The proposed law has come under the spotlight again thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which has raised attention to staffing issues in nursing homes and hospitals. The Gothamist report describes a New York nurse who, during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, “often found herself rushing between six different patients in a makeshift Intensive Care Unit—far more than the one- or two- patient caseload typically considered safe for nurses in this setting.” She told the publication that staffing shortages, which persist even in this latter phase of the crisis, have adverse effects on “patient safety and outcomes,” as well as nurses’ mental and emotional well-being. Her experience correspond with research that shows correlations between nurse staffing levels and patient outcomes in both hospitals and nursing home facilities, according to Gothamist. A report by New York’s Attorney General, Letitia James, similarly found that nursing homes with staffing shortages had more Covid-19-related fatalities.

The New York State Nurses Association, a union representing nurses in the state, is pressing lawmakers to pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which is opposed by lobbying groups representing hospitals and nursing homes. A report by the New York Department of Health found that the proposed law could cost from $3.7 billion to $4.7 billion. Citing inconclusive evidence that higher staffing levels would lead to superior patient outcomes, and arguing that the pandemic demonstrated a need for “workforce flexibility,” the report suggested staffing levels should not be mandated by law. The Greater New York Hospital Association offered a similar view, saying in a statement to Gothamist that “Given the huge revenue losses and increased costs hospitals continue to suffer due to the pandemic, such a mandate now is unthinkable.”

Still, the New York State Nurses Association argued to Gothamist in favor of staffing regulation across the state, asserting that standardization is necessary “to ensure equity and hold health care providers accountable.” The union’s president said in a statement to Gothamist that “Having a law is much better because it’s universal… There’s better accountability and enforcement mechanisms. The hospital can’t just say, ‘File a grievance.’ No, we’re going to file a complaint with the Department of Health or Department of Labor. It’s more powerful.”

More information is available via Gothamist. You can also read the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act via the New York Assembly.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents.  Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.

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