AG James calls on Hochul to end pause on nursing home reform laws
New York State Attorney General Letitia James, whose report on nursing homes last year led to industry reforms, is now calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to implement those same reforms.
The state’s nursing home safe staffing law and profit cap, meant to direct more money toward resident care, were supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but Hochul has delayed their implementation. The governor has issued monthly executive orders to pause the laws, citing the state’s health care worker shortage and the COVID-19 pandemic.
James, speaking Monday with union leaders from 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East, said the laws are needed to protect both workers and residents from understaffing.
“It’s time to lift the pause on both of those bills, and put in place staffing ratios, put in place a law that was deemed to address where the profits of some of these owners should be placed, which is back into the nursing homes,” she said.
James’ January 2021 report found many nursing homes across the state were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic because of poor staffing levels and a lack of compliance with infection control protocols. It also found some nursing homes directed money toward related parties rather than investing in staffing and personal protective equipment.
The report also detailed how former governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration undercounted the state’s nursing home death toll by about 50% by not including residents who died of COVID after being taken to hospitals. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli confirmed those findings in his own report last week.
James’ report was a driving factor in state lawmakers passing the safe staffing law, which had languished in Albany for years. The law, passed in May and signed into law by Cuomo in June, mandates nursing homes provide residents with an average of at least 3.5 hours of direct nursing care every day.
There’s been debate over whether nursing homes will have to comply with that average every day or on a quarterly basis.
Meanwhile the profit cap, passed as part of the 2021-22 state budget, limits nursing home profits to 5% and mandates at least 70% of revenue go toward care.
The nursing home industry filed a federal lawsuit against the profit cap in December, arguing it's unconstitutional for the state to confiscate their revenue and that there is no direct correlation between profitability and quality of care. Hochul issued her first executive order to pause the cap two days later.
James, who ran a short-lived Democratic primary campaign against Hochul before dropping out in December, has yet to speak with the governor about the pauses. However, she said that doing so was on her agenda for her visit to Albany next week.
James is also calling for the legislature to include wage increases for nursing home workers in the state budget, which is due April 1.
“We have to ask the question: What do we value as a nation and as a society?” James said. “And why did we leave our hospitals and nursing homes understaffed? And what are we doing in response to the workers, as well as the vulnerable residents in these nursing homes? And why did our seniors and our loved ones and our neighbors have to pay the ultimate price? And what is government doing in response?”