Bill would require minimum staffing in nursing homes, hospitals

New York’s nursing homes and hospitals would be required to maintain adequate minimum staffing levels under a proposed state law gaining steam in the wake of a damning report linking understaffed facilities to high levels of coronavirus deaths.

The push to pass the legislation has picked up since state Attorney General Letitia James released a bombshell report last week packed with shocking findings — among them that two-thirds of nursing home coronavirus fatalities in the state were in facilities with the lowest or next-to-lowest staffing ratings.

“The attorney general’s report validates what we’ve said all along: The nursing homes are understaffed,” state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), the bill’s co-sponsor, told The Post.

The “Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act” — introduced earlier this month, prior to James’ report — would establish minimum standards for nurse-to-patient ratios under penalty of revocation of the facility’s operating license.

Under the law, one nurse could be assigned to no more than five acute-care patients in a nursing home, and facilities must have sufficient staffing to ensure every resident at least 2.8 hours of time with a certified nurse aide, 1.3 hours with a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse, and 0.75 hours with a RN.

The legislation also establishes minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for varying hospital wards, including a one-to-one ratio in operating rooms, trauma units and maternity wards for advanced stages of labor.

With respect to nursing homes, Kim observed that the facilities have long opposed staffing minimums because, as James’ report noted, 65 percent operate as for-profit entities.

“That’s why they lobby against staff ratio requirements. They have to spend money,” he said. “They’re trying to protect their bottom line.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim speaking in Albany on August 19, 2020.
Assemblyman Ron Kim speaking in Albany on August 19, 2020.
Bernadette Hogan/NYPost

But a memo accompanying the legislation reviewed by The Post argues that raising the standard of care would pay for itself by reducing medical malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), who chairs the Senate health committee, credited James’ audit with shining light on the disastrous consequences of insufficient staffing in healthcare facilities.

“The Attorney General’s report highlights how inadequate staffing levels at nursing homes directly resulted in higher infection rates and deaths,” said Rivera, who is sponsoring the bill in his chamber of the state legislature. “This report will inform the policies and reforms that we must consider to improve patient and worker safety.”

The administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legislation.

James’ report served as a blistering rebuke of the administration’s accounting of the coronavirus crisis with respect to nursing homes, finding that the death toll in the facilities may be more than 50 percent higher than officials claim.

Additional reporting by Aaron Feis