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Two Bills Intended To Reduce Understaffing In Hospitals & Nursing Homes Are Nearing A Vote In The New York State Legislature

Published Tuesday, May 4, 2021
by Steve Wishnia/
Two Bills Intended To Reduce Understaffing In Hospitals & Nursing Homes Are Nearing A Vote In The New York State Legislature

(ALBANY, NEW YORK) - Two Bills intended to reduce understaffing in hospitals and nursing homes are nearing a vote in the state Legislature. 

One of the two measures in the Safe Staffing Act package would require hospitals to establish Staffing Committees, in which at least half the members are Nurses or others directly caring for patients, to set “specific guidelines” for the number of patients per Nurse on each unit and shift.

The other would mandate that beginning January 1st, nursing homes must “maintain daily average staffing hours equal to 3.5 hours of care per resident per day by a Certified Nurse Aide, a Licensed Nurse or a Nurse’s Aide.”

The Bills are now on the floor in both houses and Assembly Member Aileen Gunther (Democrat-Sullivan), their lead sponsor in the lower house, says she expects a vote this week.

The final versions were introduced on April 22nd after negotiations involving the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 1, and hospital trade groups.

In a joint statement issued on April 23rd, 1199SEIU President George Gresham called them “long overdue.”

NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez called them “long-awaited reforms.”

Understaffing has long been one of Health Care Workers’ biggest complaints.

Similar measures have been introduced in every legislative session since 2009, with one passed by the Assembly in 2016, but none ever made it out of committee in the State Senate.

“Nurses have been crying out for this for a long time and we realized they were right,” says Gunther, a Nurse at Catskill Regional Medical Center before being elected to the Assembly. “It took the pandemic to shake everybody up and say, ‘It’s time.  It’s the right thing to do.’”

The COVID-19 Pandemic dramatically exposed a problem that’s been festering for a long time, 1199SEIU executive vice-president Milly Silva told LaborPress: “Staffing was bad before the pandemic.  It’s been a horror during the pandemic.”

New York generally ranks low in staffing per patient, Silva explains, and the problem is particularly acute in nursing homes.

The “gold standard” of care is 4.1 hours per patient, she says, and the 3.5-hour minimum - at least 1.1 hours by a Licensed Nurse and 2.2 hours by a Nurse’s Aide or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) - would bring the floor up.

Most non-profit nursing homes are already close to the 3.5-hour standard, she adds, but “too many” for-profit operators have “bare or minimal staffing, because they’re not required to do more.”

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