Capitol Notes

State study on health care staffing is missing

Allegations that insufficient numbers of personnel at nursing homes contributed to COVID-19 related deaths has raised questions about the status of a required state report on the benefits of minimum staffing ratios in health care facilities.

“A report, by law, was due from the health department in December of 2019 and I don’t know if they ever did the study, but it has certainly not been published,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried told The Capitol Pressroom on Wednesday morning.

The statutory requirement was born out of a budget compromise last year with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose administration “pushed back very hard” on legislative language that would impose mandatory staffing levels for nursing homes and hospitals, according to Gottfried.

In response to inquiries about the status of the report, a spokesman for the state Department of Health said Wednesday afternoon, “The study remains under review.”

The department conducted a hearing on the topic in September, and in advance of this year’s legislative session state lawmakers urged state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to administratively impose staffing levels.

Before the advent of one-party legislative rule in 2019, the Democratic-controlled state Assembly had passed legislation setting minimum staffing ratios, but the proposal never moved in the the Republican-led state Senate. Bills of this magnitude, which have sweeping cost implications, can only come up for a vote if the legislative leader is supportive.

“It’s been disappointing to say the least that we have not been able to get that bill back on the Assembly floor,” Gottfried said.

In 2006, then-state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer released a report on staffing levels in New York’s nursing homes, noting, “If there are too few professionals caring for residents, then resident health can be dramatically impaired.”

The question of whether New York’s nursing homes lacked the appropriate levels of staff to deal with the novel coronavirus is one of the topics that could come up in any reviews of the state’s  handling of the pandemic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed state Attorney General Letitia James to look into the conduct of nursing homes, but Gottfried maintains a more independent investigation is needed.

The Capitol Pressroom · May 20, 2020: Assembly Health Chair calls for independent investigation into nursing home deaths
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