New York To Set Minimum Staffing levels for Nursing Homes After COVID-19 Failures

Following more than 15,000 COVID-19 nursing home deaths in New York, which have been largely blamed on insufficient staffing levels before the pandemic, State Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill that requires nursing homes to maintain minimum staffing requirements.

The Standard Minimum Nursing Home Staffing Levels bill (A7119/S6346), signed into state law this week, will set and enforce staffing standards at every nursing home in New York, regardless of whether it is a private or public facility.

The new law was signed after the state of New York, and Cuomo in particular, came under intense scrutiny for perceived failures in handling of COVID-19 nursing home outbreaks.

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More than 15,000 nursing home residents and staff died in New York State since the pandemic emerged, and a number of reports claim nursing home understaffing issues exacerbated the problem and put vulnerable residents at preventable risks.

According to the newly passed law, the Commissioner of Health must enforce minimum staffing levels which require every nursing home to maintain daily staffing hours equal to 3.5 hours of care per resident per day by a certified nurse aide (CNA), licensed practical nurse, or registered nurse with at least 2.2 hours of care per resident per day being provided by a CNA. At least 1.1 hours of care per resident per day must be provided by a licensed nurse.

In addition to the daily staffing hour requirements, facilities will be required to post information regarding nurse staffing at the facility and keep records for audit compliances.

The bill indicates the enforcement of these standards is the responsibility of the Commissioner of Health, who will also be granted the power to impose civil penalties for nursing homes that fail adhere to the minimal staffing standards and record retention.

According to the new law, the staffing mandates will go in to effect January 2022, and the Commissioner of Health may begin assessing penalties against nursing homes failing to comply by April 1, 2022.

Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a damning report on January 28 revealing nursing home understaffing problems played a crucial and tragic role in the high number of COVID-19 deaths at facilities throughout the state over the last year.

“Pre-existing, insufficient staffing levels put residents and staff at increased risk of harm during the pandemic. As nursing home resident and staff COVID-19 infections rose during the initial wave of the pandemic, staffing absences increased at many nursing homes,” James’ investigation indicated. “As a result, already-low staffing levels decreased even further, to especially dangerous levels in some homes, even as the need for care increased due to the need to comply with COVID-19 infection control protocols and the loss of assistance from family visitors.”

Federal investigators continue to explore the possibility of nursing home neglect playing a role in the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first detected in a nursing home in Washington State that became the epicenter for the U.S. pandemic. Investigators say the nursing home failed to respond to the outbreak adequately, placing residents in jeopardy of illness and death.

As a result of rampant outbreaks among nursing homes leaving the elderly and those with weakened immune systems in jeopardy, The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched three investigations into nursing home procedures in May 2020.

The ongoing investigations by the OIG include nursing home oversight during the pandemic, an audit of nursing home infection prevention and control programs, and an in-depth review monitoring psychotropic drug use in nursing homes.


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