EDITORIAL: Nursing home reform package is late, but will improve conditions

The state capitol building in Albany. File Photo

The state capitol building in Albany. File Photo

Too little too late for many, the state Legislature is finally taking significant steps to right the wrongs that have led to unnecessary illnesses and deaths at nursing homes in New York.

Fortunately, not all the focus of the last week in Albany has been on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his efforts to cover up the true death toll from the state’s covid policies. But the package of nursing home reform legislation being passed in the Legislature is an outgrowth of the policies that contributed to problems that predated the coronavirus crisis.

The bills being passed not only address the health issues, but issues related to finances and ownership, oversight, staffing and transparency.

On Tuesday, the Assembly passed several bills, one of which (A5685A) will ensure that nursing homes are investing a significant share of their revenue into nursing services and other patient care of residents.

Under this bill, 70% of total operating revenue will have to be allocated to overall care, with 60% of that to direct nursing care. Under existing laws, for-profit nursing homes could divert money to other areas, increasing their profits at the expense of PPEs and other services to residents.

The current health emergency exposed many flaws in care and management. Bill A3131A would ensure more oversight and compliance to better protect residents.

Other legislation that got the Assembly’s approval would improve oversight to ensure nursing homes are able to care for residents, ensure that changes in ownership and operation of facilities get tougher scrutiny, and would require that inspections of nursing home facilities be posted online to give patients, families and the public vital information they need.

Later this week, the Assembly is expected to increase financial penalties for public health law violations and provide support from the additional fines for the Nursing Home Quality Improvement Demonstration Program.

The bill would require fines be increased from the current range of $2,000 to $10,000 per violation to $3,000 to $20,000. The fines haven’t been updated in more than 30 years.

These bills come on top of a package of 10 bills passed last week in the Assembly that included creation of a task force to study the problems identified with nursing homes during the covid crisis, such as staffing shortages, visitation bans and infection control protocols.

Other reform bills passed last week relate to making improvements to oversight, transparency and visitation, as well as accountability.

For instance, bill A3397 would repeal the section of state Public Health law that protected health care facilities, administrators and executives from legal harm and damages related to improper care.

These reforms not much help or comfort to those who’ve been directly affected by a flawed system. But they are welcome, and they will make nursing homes safer and more accountable — two qualities so obviously lacking during the past year.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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