“Safe staffing” push renewed during COVID-19 crisis

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A long-stalled bill in Albany is getting a renewed push as a result of the coronavirus crisis. It’s called the Safe Staffing For Quality Care Act. Nurses from Western New York rallied in front of ECMC Wednesday to show their support for it.

We’re asking the community to stand behind us,” proclaimed Kena Collins, who sits on the Western Regional Board of Directors for the New York State Nurses Association.

A report issued by New York State Attorney General Letitia James last month noted, “Nursing homes that entered the pandemic with low U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates than facilities with higher CMS Staffing ratings.”

More than 13,000 nursing home residents across the state have died from the coronavirus. James’ report recommended that the state mandate certain direct care and supervision staffing levels.

“(T)he state should require specified direct care and supervision staffing levels above the current level reflected at facilities with low CMS Staffing ratings and that are sufficient to care for residents’ needs, and enact effective laws and regulations requiring nursing homes to provide complete disclosure of all monies transferred to related parties and the salaries, compensation, and distributions made to their owners, officers, directors and investors, and all loans made to and from any nursing home, and the repayment thereof,” the report said.

The Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act would require for nursing facilities: 2.8 hours of care per resident per day by a CNA, 1.3 hours of care per resident per day by an LPN or RN, and 0.75 hours of care per resident per day by an RN, divided among all shifts.

Nine Western New York lawmakers, seven Democrats and two Republicans, have signed on as cosponsors to the bill: Assemblypeople Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Monica Wallace, Karen McMahon, Pat Burke, Angelo Morinello, William Conrad, and Senators Tim Kennedy, Sean Ryan, and George Borrello.

“I felt like Rose on the Titanic telling people we don’t have enough lifeboats. And then finally the iceberg showed up, which was the coronavirus,” said Steve Bailey, who works at Terrace View Long-Term Care Facility on the ECMC campus.

Bailey’s facility has a four-star CMS staffing rating (out of five), but currently has almost 50 open positions, according to ECMC officials.

“All nursing homes in our region have been challenged in hiring staff. ECMC’s Terrace View Long-Term Care facility has offered financial incentives and signing bonuses as they actively recruit for almost 50 open positions at the facility,” ECMC officials said in a statement.

A report issued by the New York State Department of Health last August found the 2019 version of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act would cost between $1.9 billion and $2.3 billion for nursing homes. The legislation would also create minimum staffing ratios in hospitals, costing between $1.8 and $2.4 billion, according to estimates.

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, called the bill “well-intended”, but said the state would have to help nursing homes with those costs. But there’s another problem even beyond money, he says.

“Even if the state had the money, we don’t have the men and women,” Hanse said. “We don’t have the workforce.”

“The fundamental issue here, which we were working on with the Department of Health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, is that New York needs to focus on recruiting and retaining long term care workers,” he added.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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