BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rather than focus on the controversy surrounding the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, 1199 SEIU, which represents staff in the facilities, seized on the added spotlight to again push for reform.

"I don't want to focus so much on the executive order like it had some big impact although, it may have, but really the issue is going forward is finding a solution," Administrative Organizer Marshall Bertram said. "How do we fix these nursing homes that were struggling before this?"

The tactic, which included demonstrations and vigils across the state this week, seemed to work as Friday the governor announced a package of reforms he says he will insist need to be in the budget.

"Taxpayers spend a fortune on these nursing homes and the funding should be going to the facility and the patient care. These are not designed to be businesses and money-making machines," Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, said.

The proposal includes many of the changes the union has been championing, including a requirement nursing homes spend a minimum of 70 percent of revenue on direct patient care and 40 percent on staff. Nell Robinson, a nurse at the Weinberg Campus in Getzville, said anything that allows more direct staff to patient care is important.

"Some of them need more one-on-one," she said. "We need more time with the residents instead of feeling more like it's a factory and we're in one room and out, in and out. We need to have time, take our time with the residents."

Robinson has been in health care for 23 years and said even though she was at risk as a breast cancer survivor, she worked through the pandemic.

"Staffing has always been an issue but when COVID came, COVID pretty much just brought out the seriousness of the staffing," Robinson said. "We really didn't have any because people were afraid."

The union said part of the staffing issues are because wages aren't competitive, so many won't make a career of the job like Robinson has done. The Cuomo plan also proposes oversight of transactions like employee compensation to ensure fair market value.

"Nursing homes have been functioning on a bare minimum level, just getting by, doing OK, and this pandemic just took the covering away from all those things," Bertram said.

Robinson believes the coordinated effort to draw attention to nursing home issues, particularly in for-profit facilities, has been effective.