NY attorney general: It’s time to start enforcing nursing home reform laws

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Nursing home workers at the Cayuga Ridge facility near Ithaca held a rally last fall to call for better staffing levels and pay raises. (Phoebe Taylor Vuolo/WSKG)

ITHACA, NY (WSKG) — New York Attorney General Letitia James said it’s time to start enforcing last year’s nursing home reforms. State lawmakers passed two significant reforms to nursing home operations last summer. Enforcement was set to begin this January, but the laws remain on an extended hold.

The new laws were passed in response to the devastating losses of nursing home residents during the first months of the pandemic. One law put a cap on nursing home profits, the other set minimum staffing guidelines. 

Just as the reforms were about to go into effect, Governor Kathy Hochul put them on hold, citing an ongoing shortage of health care workers. That decision got a lot of praise from some nursing home trade organizations, who opposed the reforms.

But Attorney General Letitia James said the reforms would improve conditions for nursing home workers and the people they care for.

Workers at many nursing homes, like Willow Point in Vestal and Cayuga Ridge in Ithaca, said chronic understaffing has harmed the quality of patient care and placed greater burdens on existing staff.

At Willow Point, there have been so many worker resignations in recent months, the nursing home has had to make significant cuts to patient capacity.

“I had a discussion with the workers who work at nursing homes all across the state of New York,” James said. “And they have revealed to me conditions in some of these nursing homes, which are appalling.”

James said many nursing home workers told her they are often overworked and underpaid. She said last year’s investigation of nursing facilities found understaffing had real consequences during the first year of the pandemic. 

“They could not treat every patient. They could not turn over every patient,” James said. “And as a result of that, a lot of patients suffered. And some even lost their life.”

James spoke Monday alongside George Gresham, who heads 1199 SEIU, the state’s largest health care workers union. Gresham pushed back on industry claims. He said enforcing minimum staffing levels and raising pay would make it easier for facilities to hire and retain workers.

“Workers ask themselves, as much as I put my heart and soul into the care of others, do I really want to do this, when I can go to Target and just work as a cashier and make more money to take care of my family?” Gresham said.

Gresham and James also took the opportunity to call for additional funding and support for nursing home workers to be included in next year’s state budget.

Want to dig deeper? You can look up data on nursing home staffing levels, inspection reports and ownership for any elder care facility using this interactive database from ProPublica.

Update 3/24/22: An earlier version of this story included a misspelling of the New York Attorney General’s name. It’s Letitia, not Leticia.