The refusal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to release accurate figures related to covid-related deaths in nursing homes revealed not only a pattern of dishonesty and secrecy, but also helped impede policy and program solutions that rely on accurate information.
Thankfully, a Supreme Court justice stepped in and righted this wrong, forcing the state to release accurate data.
But the withholding of information wasn’t the only problem with the state’s response to health and safety in nursing homes and other residential care facilities.
For the health, safety and mental well-being of the residents, staff and families, the state needs to initiate reforms.
It could start by considering a reform package put forth in the state Senate.
The package of bills, which has the support of AARP New York, would address such issues as infection protocols, staffing, transferring and discharging of residents, reporting of data such as communicable diseases and resulting deaths, and visitation rights for “compassionate caregivers.”
This legislation would help ensure better care and safety, while also giving nursing home management and lawmakers the timely information they need to address problems as they arise.
In addition to this package of reforms, lawmakers also need to consider legislation that would require nursing homes and hospitals to maintain minimum staffing levels to ensure quality care.
Among the findings in last week’s report by state Attorney General Letitia James was that two-thirds of covid-related deaths occurred in nursing homes with among the lowest staffing ratings.
The “Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act,” (A108/S1168), would require acute care facilities and nursing homes to ensure a proper ratio of direct-care nurses to patients, set minimum staffing requirements, require facilities to submit a staffing plan each year and when applying for an operating certificate, authorize nurses to refuse assignments when staffing levels fall below minimum levels or when their workload exceeds their abilities and gives them legal protections, and imposes civil penalties for violations.
The hospital nurse-to-patient ratios, according to the bill memo, are based on peer-reviewed academic research and evidence-based recommendations.
One objection by nursing homes to minimum staffing levels has been the additional cost of labor.
But according to the bill, those costs could be offset by lower incidences of pneumonia, shock, cardiac arrest and other related outcomes that drive up costs. There’s also less staff turnover in well-staffed facilities (which is costly), and litigation and medical malpractice costs are reduced.
The covid crisis has drawn long-overdue attention to the problems in these facilities and has emphasized the need for reform.
There’s no reason to wait any longer.