A group of about 80 nonprofit and public nursing homes throughout New York are suing Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state officials over new minimum staffing and spending requirements.
In a complaint filed this week, the homes, led by the nursing home advocacy group LeadingAge New York, asked a State Supreme Court judge in Albany to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the mandates, which took effect April 1st.
The rules are intended to keep patients safe, but the nursing homes claim that the staffing requirements will only make it harder for them to operate by issuing penalties for standards they cannot meet.
One of the mandates, signed into law by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June, requires nursing homes to hire enough staff to provide each patient with an average of three and a half hours of clinical care per day. Other reforms included in last year’s budget require nursing homes to spend at least 70% of their revenue on direct patient care and at least 40% on staff that provide that care, while capping profits at 5%.
A separate group of 250 nursing homes already sued the state in December over the profit cap, calling the rule unconstitutional. The state is next scheduled to respond in that case in October.
Both sets of rules were supposed to take effect on January 1st, but Hochul postponed enforcement for months, saying there was a statewide health care staffing shortage. When she finally allowed the rules to take effect in early April, the move was celebrated by health care labor groups that have fought for minimum staffing standards for years.
But Jim Clyne, president and CEO of LeadingAge New York, called the move “arbitrary,” saying the staffing shortage is ongoing. “The vast majority of our members cannot meet the 3.5-hour requirement,” Clyne told Gothamist.
Nursing homes must report their current staffing and spending levels but will not be evaluated on compliance until data is released by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services later this year. After that, they can be fined up to $2,000 per day by state health officials for non-compliance.
The complaint claims that the staffing rules will result in a vicious cycle once fines are implemented by “depleting [nursing homes] of funds needed to recruit and retain staff.”
Consumer advocates, meanwhile, have argued New York’s staffing requirements passed last year don’t go far enough. A 2001 study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded that nursing homes should provide at least 4.1 hours of clinical care per resident on a daily basis in order to keep them safe.
“It is disappointing that instead of working with the union to figure out how we actually improve recruitment and retention, nursing homes have instead decided to put their energy into blocking the law,” said Dennis Short, senior policy analyst for the health care union 1199SEIU. Short added that insufficient staffing also contributes to high turnover rates in nursing homes.
Clyne said most LeadingAge members are in compliance with the spending requirements the state put out. But the complaint filed this week still says the rules are potentially harmful because they discount the need to invest in capital improvements that could also benefit residents.
Asked for comment on the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, which is also named as a defendant along with the state health commissioner, said “The Department does not comment on pending litigation.”
A court appearance for the case is scheduled for June 10th.