Advocates push for safe staffing at nursing homes

April 26, 2019 06:15 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- One nurse for every 30 patients? One nurse for every 40 patients?

Right now, in New York state there are no minimum staffing requirements that nursing homes must meet to ensure patients are properly cared for but there is a new push to change that. 


Nursing homes get between $100,000 and $120,000 per year, per Medicaid patient, and they decide how to best use the cash. Many of those who work in the industry say some of the homes choose to pocket too much of the profits instead of hiring adequate staff.

MaryAnn Sprung of Rochester has been a nurse for 40 years. In that time, she says it's been nearly impossible to provide the care she was trained to give because she's pulled in too many directions. Long-term care facilities, in her experience, have been the hardest.

"The care is sub-par and it's not the fault of the actual caregivers, it's the fault of the administration who will not have adequate staffing.... staffing levels are a travesty," she tells News10NBC.  

But just how bad are we talking?

"There are sometimes 30-40 patients on a unit and there may be two to three nurses or aides trying to care for that many patients," Spring says.

If someone calls in, the situation goes from bad to worse.

"There is no backup, there is no one to backfill so that we have adequate staffing for that upcoming shift and it happens all the time, there's great burnout. People work long hours with low pay," she adds.

We've seen what staffing issues can lead to. Every single family News10NBC has spoken with during our investigation into the Sodus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has said the same thing. There's not enough staff to keep up with the needs of patients.  

That's why the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice is trying to make a change for all patients. 

"We hear so many stories of people pushing the call bell and nobody comes to them," says Co-Chair Barbara Baer.

The committee is pushing state legislation that would set minimum staffing requirements in nursing homes and hospitals.  

Currently, both the state and federal government say that nursing homes "shall have sufficient staffing to ensure safety and quality of care," but they do not define "sufficient."  

On average, statewide, a nurse or nursing assistant provides 3.8 hours of care per day to a resident. That's the average though some homes are well below that. The legislation the Elder Justice Committee is pushing would force homes to up their time with patients to 4.1 hours per day.  

However, New York is currently in the midst of a nursing shortage so meeting those requirements could be difficult and that seems to be why the state legislature hasn't passed this bill in previous years.  

As part of his new executive budget, Gov. Cuomo has directed the New York State Department of Health to study this issue.

The study will analyze the range of potential fiscal impacts of staffing levels, other staffing enhancement strategies, and other patient quality improvement initiatives.

DOH will engage with hospital and nursing home associations, direct care health workers, labor representatives, and patient and community advocates.

"The department is in the process of finalizing an implementation strategy for the study included in this year's budget," says DOH spokesman Gary Holmes.  


Jennifer Lewke

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