Nursing homes in New York could be in line for stronger oversight protections under legislation that will head to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk for her consideration. 

State lawmakers last week put the finishing touches on a bill that is meant to strengthen the state's long-term care ombudsman program for nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

The measure will require the program to publicize in its annual reports the types and patterns of complaints that were received by its regional offices. It would also have to publicize its visits by ombudsmen to long-term care facilities. 

The legislation was approved after nursing homes and long-term care facilities were battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the former Cuomo administration came under scrutiny for how the deaths of residents were tabulated. 

“This bill would arm policymakers with the information they need to ensure the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is as effective as possible in advocating for and speaking on behalf of our society’s most vulnerable population: nursing home residents,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “After over 15,000 deaths in New York nursing homes and counting since the start of the pandemic, we need a strong advocate."

A bill that would have launched an independent investigation of nursing home policy did not gain final votes in the Legislature this month. Hochul in May indicated she will announce an independent review of pandemic policy by New York to assess what went wrong and how policy can be improved in the future. 

But at the same time, lawmakers and advocates have sought to shore up the ombudsman program in the state. The bill approved last week comes after a $2.5 million increase in state funding for the program, essentially doubling its state-funded budget. 

Advocates for the measure praised its final passage, hopeful it could be provided needed information for residents in nursing homes that could lead to changes in policy as a result. 

“Ombudsmen are the eyes and ears in long-term care," said Ann Marie Cook, the President/CEO of Lifespan of Greater Rochester. "They become the trusted person who residents can rely on to advocate for them."