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Union calls for crackdown on nursing home staffing standards


Nursing home workers across the state are calling on stricter enforcement of staffing standards.

April Stonebraker has experienced the emotional toll of staff shortages firsthand. She said whether she’s at work or not, her job is never far from her mind.

"You know that your coworkers are struggling, and they're going through a tough time mentally, physically, while they're short,” said Stonebraker. “But you also know that your residents are not being taken care of."

Now, Stonebraker is joining others from the healthcare union 1199 SEIU to call for better working conditions and strict penalties for nursing homes who do not meet daily staffing standards.

The union said a state law requires nursing home owners and operators to provide an average of 3.5 hours of daily care to residents. However, in August, the New York State Department of Health released updated draft regulations that would remove minimum penalties for violating the staffing standards. Also, previous and current draft regulations allow nursing homes to staff below a minimum daily standard as long as they meet a quarterly standard.

The union put together an online dashboard analyzing nursing home staffing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 14 nursing homes listed in Onondaga County, only three met the state’s threshold of 3.5 hours of hands-on care per resident per day.

Of the four Oswego County facilities listed, none of them met the 3.5 threshold.

Loretto Health and Rehabilitation Center in Syracuse fell just under the threshold at 3.49. A spokesperson for the facility said Loretto is offering incentives as part of a recruiting effort, and it also supplements with agency staff to make sure there is adequate staffing at all times.

Richard Mollot is the Executive Director for the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to improving nursing home care. Mollot said while many nursing homes statewide say there aren’t enough available workers, better pay and working conditions would lead to better retention.

"Nursing homes in this state are making hundreds of millions of dollars a year in excess income,” said Mollot. “Their inability to find and retain workers is entirely a problem of their own making. When will we stop feeding the beast?"

Darlene Gates, an administrative organizer for 1199 SEIU and a former health care worker, said she believes the state needs to enforce strict staffing standards to keep people working in this critical industry.

"We can't deliver a good service to the residents, if we don't have members coming in the door willing to do these jobs,” said Gates. “It takes a lot of work to provide quality care to the residents, and we advocate for that every day.”

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.