EDITORIAL: Actions will improve nursing home conditions, but more must be done

The state Capitol Building in Albany.
The state Capitol Building in Albany.

The covid crisis demonstrated how poorly New York treats our elderly and infirm residing in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The 15,000-plus deaths in nursing homes related to coronavirus – a number the state tried desperately to hide – was an atrocity.

The high number of deaths was a five-alarm fire bell to the existing problems with care, staffing and funding.

Fortunately, state officials heeded the alarm and made some changes this week alone could have a demonstrable impact on care and conditions.

One positive step came Tuesday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill repealing a law that shielded healthcare facilities and workers from negligence lawsuits.

The old law effectively prevented families of nursing home patients who died as a result of the covid crisis from seeking legal recourse against the facilities. It also all but encouraged nursing home operators to take shortcuts in care and equipment, to the detriment of staff and residents.

The other positive step is included in the new state budge. It requires that least 70% of revenue taken in by nursing homes and long-term care facilities statewide to be spent on direct resident care, with 40% of that spent on staffing related to direct care of patients.

Some nursing home operators have been accused of diverting revenue away from patient care and staffing towards high profits and executive salaries. This budget measure will help ensure that a significant portion of a facility’s income is invested back into patient care.

But while lawmakers and the governor made progress, they still have more they can do to improve care and conditions.

Lawmakers have yet to approve the “Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act” (A108/S1168), which among other things would require acute care facilities and nursing homes to ensure a proper ratio of direct-care nurses to patients and set minimum staffing requirements.

The bill also would improve oversight of nursing homes by requiring facilities to submit a staffing plan each year and whenever they apply for an operating certificate. And it would empower nurses to refuse assignments when the workload from understaffing might overwhelm them.

The costs of the new measures are expected to be absorbed at least in part by the savings the facilities garner from a decline in serious health issues and reduced litigation and medical malpractice costs.

The new state budget also includes $32 million in new funding for registered nurses and certified nursing assistants.

While the problems with nursing home staffing and funding haven’t gone away, state lawmakers have at least begun to take steps to alleviate them.

However, families and advocates for the elderly can’t let up.

They need to keep pushing for further reforms until they’re satisfied that our most vulnerable people are receiving all the care they deserve.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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