States that saw waves of nursing home deaths during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic have already begun to flex new regulatory muscle, with New Jersey mulling a series of reforms and New York formally repealing a controversial liability shield for facility operators.
First up, a package of bills was introduced on July 31 in New Jersey with the goal of reforming the Garden State’s nursing home industry.
The news was first reported by NJ.com.
Some of the reforms contained in the proposed legislation were recommended by a report commissioned by the administration of N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy.
The report, published by the legal and consulting firm Manatt Health, found that a wide range of missteps by both the state and federal government and the skilled nursing industry contributed to the COVID-19 death toll in New Jersey.
The proposals include:
- Raising the minimum wage for direct care staff in long-term care facilities to $3 above the state minimum wage. This would be annually adjusted based on cost-of-living increases.
- Revisions to the operational, licensing, and reporting requirements for long-term care facilities.
- Letting long-term care employees earn paid sick leave.
- Requiring the Department of Health to set up a “scaling system” of actions and penalties for facilities that violate state and federal operating requirements.
- Setting up one-time, lump-sum payments for staff who provided direct care to long-term care residents during the pandemic
- Requiring the state Department of Human Services to review and evaluate existing requirements for Medicaid managed care organizations for providing nursing home services.
The bills were announced by state Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.
New Jersey had the highest average COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents at 358.9, according to the data collected from nursing homes by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as of July 19. It had the second-highest average deaths per 1,000 residents at 116.2, according to the same numbers.
In total, the state has seen more than 6,700 deaths in its long-term care facilites.
Other reform measures pending separately include minimum staffing ratios for nursing home aides, though that proposal died as far back as January and was later reintroduced, NJ.com noted.
Jonathan Dolan, the president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey — the local affiliate of the nursing home trade group American Health Care Association — told NJ.com the bills show “a lack of insight into our industry and a distortion of the Manatt Report.”
He added nursing homes have largely avoided the virus’ ongoing spread in the general population due to better testing, more access to personal protective equipment, and staffing support.
Milly Silva, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said the bills contain overdue reforms and that the union will be making specific recommendations later, including on more ways for workers, patients and advocates to be involved in reforming the nursing home sector.
Across the Hudson River in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will formally roll back a controversial provision, included in the state’s budget in April, that provided increased liability protections for nursing homes and other health care settings.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a sponsor of the bill, thanked the governor for enshrining the reversal into law on Twitter.
The new law resets the liability standard in place before the passage of the budget provision, which temporarily raised the bar for plaintiffs to prove wrongdoing in civil cases. The revised legislation will still allow for greater protections for facilities that provide care “related to the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19,” according to a story from public radio station WMHT of upstate Troy, N.Y.