Staffing problems at nursing homes continue to be a huge problem in New York and across the nation.
Nursing home industry leaders have said that they are struggling to find workers.
But union organizers for 1199SEIU told News 4 Investigates that the workers are there to hire. The bigger problem is retaining them with low pay, working conditions, and unfavorable hours for workers with families.
“We do have people coming in wanting to work in healthcare but I think when they walk into the environment and they’re faced with reality right now, it’s next to impossible and they just give up,” said Darlene Gates, a union organizer.
News 4 Investigates has reported extensively on the shortcomings of some nursing homes, weak state enforcement, and the staffing problems.
The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the challenges and shortcomings, said Dennis Short, a senior policy analysist for 1199SEIU union.
But Short saw all the negative attention as an opportunity to address some of those problems.
“It gave us an opportunity to really move a couple of pieces of legislation that we think are important to begin to address some of those fundamental issues,” Short said.
Since then, state lawmakers passed new rules that impact staffing levels at nursing homes and how much each spend on direct resident care – changes the industry said were pushed through by a prior administration without any of their feedback. (The governor postponed the laws through the end of this month because of the pandemic and staffing shortages).
“And as such, they are flawed on so many levels,” said Stephen Hanse, the president of the New York State Health Facilities Association which represents hundreds of nursing homes across the state.
As a result, more than 250 nursing homes in New York filed a federal lawsuit to halt the new staffing and profit cap rules. The law caps profits, but also requires nursing homes to spend at least 70% of their revenues on direct resident care and at least 40% on staff who care for residents. The lawsuit claims it would force nursing homes to spend more than $500 million extra on care.
But others, including union members, found the lawsuit illuminated the issue further because it has nursing homes basically admitting that they made nearly a billion dollars a year by not spending any of those profits on staffing and care – money that is largely supplied by taxpayer-funded programs.
Nursing home workers in Western New York continue to strike and walk off the job, too. On Wednesday, workers at Our Lady of Peace nursing home in Lewiston stopped work for 24 hours to demand better pay and staffing,
Grace Bogdanove, vice president of Wester New York Nursing Home Division of 1199SEIU, said the new legislation are necessary reforms and provides the industry with an opportunity to “turn the corner.”
“Short staffing has been a No. 1 concern for our members for years and it’s what really drives workers out of the industry,” she said. “Their inability to provide the care that they want to be able to provide for their residents because they don’t have the amount of staff that they need on the floor to do that work.”
In addition to the state legislation, it now appears that the federal government is taking notice, too.
President Joe Biden, in his State of the Union address, said the federal government will move to improve standards of care in nursing homes.
The Biden Administration proposed a series of reforms, including ensuring nursing homes have sufficient, well-trained staffing, holding poor-performing nursing homes accountable or lose federal taxpayer dollars and getting the public more comprehensive information about conditions at nursing homes.
The news rattled the industry.
The American Health Care Association, which represents more than 10,000 nursing homes in the nation, asked by letter to meet with Biden and officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The organization stated that nursing homes cannot find workers to hire, which is in direct contrast to what union organizers have said.
“You may need to raise wages to recruit and retain people but more than that you have to make sure that you’re not putting somebody on the floor by themselves with 20, 30 or more residents,” Short said.
Hanse said state leaders need to increase the Medicaid rates that nursing homes receive for the care they provide and legislators can require all of that increase goes directly to staffing.
“That will go a long way in returning our current workers and helping recruit new workers,” Hanse said.
But, again, Bogdanove said the union is not seeing a shortage of workers.
“Our experience is that it’s really an issue with retention,” she said.