This article was written for Newsday.
The State Legislature on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed bills that would mandate minimum staffing levels for hospitals and nursing homes to improve care and help avoid a repeat of the critical shortages seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to realize we need safe staffing standards in our acute care facilities," said the bills’ co-sponsor, Assemb. Aileen Gunther (D-Forestburgh). "I think in the end, with better quality of care, it’s proven there is less cost and less burnout" for nurses and nurses’ aides. "There are a lot of positives to this."
The Senate gave final legislative approval to the bills, which have been debated in various forms in Albany for nearly 20 years. Now the bills can go to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his signature or veto. If Cuomo signs them, the minimum standards would begin in January.
"This is a historic moment," said Senate Health Committee chairman Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). "This will actually have a positive impact on patients." He said the measures will hold administrators of hospitals and nursing homes accountable to hire enough staff to adequately care for hospital and nursing home residents.
Rivera said nursing homes would be required to devote at least 3.5 hours of medical care to each resident every day on average. That would include a minimum of 1.1 hours by licensed nurses and the rest from nurses’ aides.
Unlike the strict mandates in the nursing home bill which are enforceable by civil penalties, the hospital bill requires that labor-management committees be created at each hospital to agree on minimum staffing standards.
Until this year, the measures were contained in a single bill, setting equal minimum standards for hospitals and nursing homes.