Lindsay Heckler, supervising attorney with the Center for Elder Law and Justice (CELJ) in Buffalo, says there are plenty of ways the legislature could help ensure safe staffing at nursing homes.

What You Need To Know

  • Center for Elder Law & Justice (CELJ) provides free civil legal services to seniors, people with disabilities and low-income populations in nine Western New York counties
  • The Center’s supervising attorney says the New York state legislature can play a key role in improving nursing home staffing
  • Four recommendations from CELJ include: pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, paying nursing home caregivers a living wage, prevent negligent operators from taking over additional nursing homes and continuing to operate underperforming nursing homes, and ensure the Department of Health fully enforces the nursing home regulations
  • In Western New York, according to CMS Nursing Home Compare Data, 61% of nursing homes are owned by for-profit operators

“Safe staffing legislation needs to be passed, and nursing home staff need to be supported in their careers,” she said. “What is the state doing to ensure that nursing home staff are paid a living wage? Not the minimum wage, so they have to often work multiple jobs at different facilities?”

Heckler also says the state needs to “do more to ensure that operators who run underperforming facilities are not allowed to continue to operate and purchase additional nursing homes.”

In one instance, New York State allowed an operator to take over a facility even though, as receiver, the operator reduced costs and enhanced revenue by admitting “difficult” residents. Emerald South is now closed down.

According to a report on Emerald South by CELJ, under the prevailing for-profit model, some “operators seek to cut costs to maximize profit. It is the belief of CELJ and other advocacy groups that this is done at the expense of resident safety.”

Finally, Heckler says, lawmakers need to conduct oversight of the Department of Health’s ability to properly enforce state and federal nursing home regulatory protections.

Regarding safe staffing levels and paying staff a living wage, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt told Capital Tonight, “I think, obviously, they are pushed by unions and liberal lawmakers.”

But Ortt is willing to fund DOH enforcement so that it has “teeth.” He says there are good actors and bad actors in the nursing home community; the challenge is identifying the bad actors. Ortt’s bill would fund off-hours, pop-in inspections of nursing homes.

In December 2019, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera that requires independent quality monitors for residential healthcare facilities. The monitors are supposed to ensure any DOH recommendations are fully implemented by nursing home facilities. 

“While the pandemic has delayed many things, we are curious to know the status of DOH with respect to developing policies and procedures by the department that will be used to contract with and utilize an independent monitor,” Heckler told Spectrum News.

The state was also supposed to release a report on safe staffing levels in December; it did not. Commissioner Zucker indicated that the report, or a statement about the report, it wasn’t clear which, will be released on August 14.