New York Attorney General Letitia James is calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to stop blocking nursing home reforms that are designed to prevent understaffing.
Two laws that set minimum staffing levels for nursing homes were supposed to take effect in January. But a Gothamist report on Monday outlined how Hochul has issued multiple executive orders postponing their enforcement, citing a health care workforce shortage. Her most recent order was slated to last through the end of March.
“I’m hoping and urging that the governor of the state of New York lift the pause on the two bills that have been signed into law and that we address the staffing shortages at nursing homes,” James said Monday at a press conference alongside leaders of the health care union 1199 SEIU.
James said that ahead of the event, she spoke with nursing home workers who are members of 1199.
“They have revealed to me conditions in some of these nursing homes which are appalling,” James said. “They are working double and triple shifts. They indicated to me that some patients’ needs are not being met because they are under-resourced.”
One of the staffing measures that Hochul postponed would require nursing homes to hire enough employees to provide patients with an average of three-and-a-half hours of clinical care each day. Another would require nursing homes to spend at least 40% of revenue on staff that provide direct patient care.
These and other nursing home reforms were passed last year after the facilities were subject to greater scrutiny during the pandemic. James has made nursing home oversight a key issue during her tenure as attorney general.
A report that James released last January not only called out former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration for undercounting nursing home deaths, but also found that nursing homes with lower levels of staffing going into the pandemic had higher mortality rates.
Hochul did not respond to a request for comment last week asking when she planned to allow the reforms to move forward. And James said Monday she has yet to talk with the governor about the issue.
But it’s possible the governor is waiting until after the state budget is released next month. Hochul and both chambers of the legislature have proposed new funding to help nursing homes comply with the staffing mandates, although Hochul has also suggested reforms that would ease limits on nursing home profits.
At the press conference, George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU, talked about the need for long-term-care employers to provide high enough wages to avoid losing people to jobs in retail that might be less demanding.
“If we all live long enough, there’s a long-term-care worker in your future,” Gresham said. “But I have to tell you, that will not last long if we don’t make the adjustments necessary.”
Nursing home lobbyists have said they are in favor of more state funding to incentivize people to work at long-term care facilities, but argued that the state can help prevent understaffing without imposing new rules and penalties.
“The individuals who run nursing homes are as alarmed and as concerned as everybody at the lack of people who want to work in long-term care,” said Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, which represents nursing homes.
The state budget is mandated by law to be approved by April 1.