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Gunther's legislation pushes for safe staffing

Joseph Abraham - Managing editor
Posted 5/24/21

NEW YORK STATE -- Two separate bills sponsored by NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, which address staffing at state healthcare facilities, are awaiting the Governor's signature.

One of the pieces …

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Gunther's legislation pushes for safe staffing

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NEW YORK STATE -- Two separate bills sponsored by NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, which address staffing at state healthcare facilities, are awaiting the Governor's signature.

One of the pieces of legislation deals with nursing homes specifically, requiring them to provide every resident with at least 3.5 hours of care each day. Those hours of care would have to include at least 2.2 hours from nursing assistants and at least 1.1 hours from licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs).

The other bill requires each general hospital to establish a clinical staffing committee to develop and oversee a clinical staffing plan. The committees, who will also oversee the implementation of the plan, are required to be in place by January 1, 2022.

Committees will be made up of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, ancillary staff members providing direct patient care and hospital administrators. They will have until July 1, 2022 to submit their first plan to the NYS Department of Health (DOH), and will do so in each year that follows.

Safe nurse staffing, which the International Council of Nurses defines as having the, “... appropriate number of nurses available at all times across the continuum of care …” is not a new conversation in New York State. In fact, the debate over whether or not to establish minimum staffing levels at hospitals and nursing homes, has taken place in the state's legislative chambers for over a decade.

Gunther said she thinks that in acute care facilities people became increasingly aware that more RNs, CNAs and LPNs were necessary in order to deliver care, especially during the pandemic.

Gunther noted that states like California already have something like this in place and that the outcomes have been positive, citing lower patient stays, less readmissions and less burnout for RNs, LPNs, etc.

“The statistics were right there,” said Gunther, “and nobody was listening until the pandemic happened. At that point, what happened in skilled nursing units, and also in acute care facilities, we knew that we didn't have enough nurses on the floor and ready for an emergent situation like we had.”

She also pointed out that more nurses are leaving the profession early. Gunther, who is a registered nurse, said she and many of her colleagues got into the career to provide quality care to the people they serve. Doing so, she says, requires the right ratio of nurses to patients.

On the long-term care front, Gunther said they also needed to look at the quality of care patients received, what was happening and why the transmissions [of COVID-19], while also looking at how many hours a CNA, RN, or nurse's aide spend with each client.

In January, the state was rocked by a report released by NYS Attorney General Letitia James. It said that a larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than the DOH published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.

“Hearing the reports day after day, my bills became not only important, but imperative to pass at this point in time, after what we saw,” said Gunther.

As of presstime, the bills were still on Governor Cuomo's desk. Gunther urges him to sign them into law as soon as possible so they can move forward with looking at the issues, negotiating with acute care CEOs, etc. and knowing what they need.

Garnet Health Medical Center -- Catskills CEO Jonathan Schiller said they have reviewed the details of the recently passed legislation and feel that it is consistent with their approach to providing excellent care to the community, and an excellent working environment for their nurses.

“As a nurse, we know how important this is for Assemblywoman Gunther and thank her for sponsoring this legislation,” he said. “We applaud Assemblywoman Gunther for her support of nurses and hospitals working together to ensure safe staffing and patient care in our region and across New York State.”

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