State Attorney General Letitia James and union leaders on Monday called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to reactivate a law that would require increased staffing and improved working conditions at nursing homes.
James, standing with SEIU Local 1199 leaders, also called on Hochul and legislative leaders to use the state budget that is under negotiation to fund raises for nursing home workers.
James issued a report in January 2021 that found facilities were underfunded and understaffed before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only worsened the fiscal condition of nursing homes.
“Now is the time for action and I’m calling for action by the state Legislature and I am demanding action now,” James said at SEIU offices in Manhattan.
James said union officials had told her of conditions in some nursing homes that were "appalling and, as a result, [employees] are working double and triple shifts all throughout New York state. They indicate to me that [with] some patients their needs are not being met because they are under-resourced and there isn’t adequate staffing.”
In January, Hochul used an executive order to delay a 2021 law that would have required specific higher staffing levels in nursing homes and that owners spend at least 70% of their revenue on direct care.
Hochul said requiring nursing homes to meet the higher staffing level, under threat of fines and at a time of a severe shortage of workers, would harm nursing homes and residents.
That month, Hochul proposed to spend $10 billion over several years to provide the entire health care workforce, including nursing home workers, with higher wages, $3,000 bonuses for full-time workers and smaller bonuses for the many part-time workers.
Under Hochul's budget proposal, nursing homes also could tap into a $1.6 billion capital program for all health care facilities to modernize or expand.
The Democratic majorities of the Senate and Assembly support that measure, and also back increased funding for employee raises.
The union has endorsed James for reelection this year.
The New York State Health Facilities Association, which represents 450 nonprofit and government-sponsored nursing homes and assisted living facilities, said ending Hochul's suspension of the 2021 law would not be feasible.
Association President Stephen Hanse cited as reasons cuts in Medicaid funding instituted under former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, along with the statewide worker shortage.
“There are not enough workers and not enough revenue to implement these initiatives which [Hochul’s] administration inherited from the prior administration,” Hanse said.
“Special interest press conferences in support of unattainable staffing mandates do nothing to solve New York’s long-term care workforce crisis,” Hanse said.
He called for collaboration with labor to obtain more funding from the state and federal governments.
There was no immediate comment from Hochul.
The chances for James's effort are uncertain.
This year, the state is flush with funds from federal COVID-19 relief and is enjoying a more significant rebound in tax revenues than expected.
Hochul and state legislative leaders say this is the year to invest in solutions to long-standing problems, including in the health care industry.
But it's unclear how much more can be spent.
Hochul and the state Legislature already have proposed initiatives that together would exceed the goal of an annual increase in spending of 2% that’s been adhered to for a decade.
At a news conference Monday, Hochul said she wouldn’t negotiate the budget publicly and declined to comment on negotiations.
A state budget deal is due April 1.
SEIU President George Gresham said the staffing shortage at nursing homes is severe, noting workers are being lured by higher pay at stores such as Target and Costco.
Grisham said: “Workers ask themselves, ‘As much as I put my heart and soul into work for others, do I really want to do this when I can work as a cashier and make more money for our families? Where are the priorities in our country?'”