As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, understaffing issues continue to plague almost every area of the workforce. In the medical community, understaffing can be deadly, but luckily for New York state action has been taken to combat this.
The New York State Assembly recently passed vital legislation, requiring hospitals and nursing homes to set and meet appropriate staffing ratios for unlicensed direct care staff and nurses.
“As a nurse myself, I know how important it is to have the right nurse to patient ratio. The fact is, patients do better when there are enough nurses at bedsides,” New York State Assembly Member Aileen Gunther said of the bill. “This legislation will save lives, promote healthier outcomes and help our nurses who work hard every day in nursing homes and in hospitals.”
The legislation passed by the New York State Assembly establishes a base amount for nurse-to-patient ratios based on peer-reviewed academic research and recommendations based on evidence for hospitals.
The bill additionally requires that hospitals create a clinical staffing committee comprised of fifty percent nurses and ancillary staff that directly provides care and the other fifty percent selected by each individual hospital’s administration.
These new councils must be established by January 1, 2022 in accordance with the bill and must develop an annual clinical staffing plan that includes specific ratios or guidelines quantifying how many patients are allocated per registered nurse and the sum of nurses and ancillary staff to be present on each shift and in each unit. These plans must be fully implemented by January 1, 2023 and annually thereafter, while also being posted in a public area of the hospital.
In addition, staffing plans must be adopted and presented to the New York State Department of Health (DOH), alongside representative data from the previous year on the newly implemented staffing plan. The plans will then be posted to the DOH’s website as well.
“For decades, nurses, patients and their families, and legislators have fought for passage of a safe staffing law,” said Health Committee Chair and New York State Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried of the legislation. “COVID-19 has made this long-standing need even more clear and compelling, as shown in reports by Attorney General Tish James and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Lives are at stake. I congratulate the long-time sponsor Assembly Member Aileen Gunther, Speaker Carl Heastie, and the workers whose dedication to patient care made this possible.”
Hospital staff will also have the capability to report staffing patterns that do not follow the adopted plan to the newly established committee and subsequently be protected from any kind of retaliation. From there, the DOH will investigate any violations and may enforce penalties or a corrective action plan if necessary.
The legislation will also create an independent advisory commission comprised of specialists in hospital representation, labor organizations representing nurses, and those knowledgeable of staffing standards and quality of patient care.
This commission will in turn evaluate staffing levels, as well as other metrics related to the staffing of nurses in hospitals, and submit their reports to the speaker of the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate’s temporary president, and the chairs of the health committees on the senate and assembly.
“Nurses have always been healthcare heroes, at our loved one’s bedsides. And for the last year, they have also served on the frontline of a global pandemic,” New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said of the legislation. “These bills will ensure that our nurses, whether in hospitals or nursing homes, are working under conditions that allow them to best help their patients and save lives.”
Nursing homes will also see the effects of the new legislation in their staffing standards. The bill requires the commissioner of the DOH to establish minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes, as well as a penalty system for non-compliance.
At a minimum, nursing home staffing standards would now include three and a half hours of nursing care per resident per day, of which at least two and one-fifths of those hours must be provided by certified nurse aides, and at least one and one-tenths by licensed practical nurses or registered professional nurses.
Nursing homes will also be required by the legislation to visibly, publicly disclose this information on staffing and make it accessible to staff, residents, and their families. The deadline for nursing homes to be in compliance with the newly passed legislation is January 1, 2022.
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