Nursing homes call for one year delay in new minimum staffing requirements

PROVIDENCE — Facing an unprecedented staffing shortage, Rhode Island nursing homes are pleading with state leaders to suspend for one year a law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 that requires new minimum staffing levels.

The state’s 80 nursing homes are already struggling to fill, collectively, 1,920 vacant positions, says the Rhode Island Health Care Association and Leading Age Rhode Island, which together represent 75 of those nursing homes.

By their calculations, the homes would have to fill those positions and hire an additional 475 people just to meet the new staffing requirements.

“It's just an impossible situation,” said association president John Gage on Tuesday. Lawmakers “could never have foreseen the depth of the staffing crisis when this bill was passed, so we are asking for relief.”

The new law will effectively require an average of at least 3.58 hours of direct nursing care per resident, per day, starting Jan. 1, and 3.81 hours starting in 2023 — considered, when the bill was being debated, the highest staff-to-patient ratio in the nation.

The nursing homes warned legislators the mandate would result in closures while supporters said it would prevent residents from having to endure long waits for care and boost the pay of currently overstretched staff.

The nursing home industry says the staffing shortage has been exacerbated by many factors, including the prolonged pandemic, the state requirement that health-care workers be vaccinated, historically low wages and a lack of child care.

Four nursing homes have already closed since the start of the pandemic, industry officials say, 28 facilities have shut down rooms or units due to lack of staff, and 23 homes have closed to new admissions at some point within the last three months.

Those workers still on the job are “exhausted,” said Gage.

Implementing a one-year moratorium on the new law would require legislative action, Gage said.

Nursing home representatives were scheduled to meet Monday with some key lawmakers to discuss the situation but the meeting was postponed because of a COVID-related issue, Gage said.

“We have heard they want to help,” he said. “They just need to come up with a plan.”

Asked about the moratorium possibility Tuesday, Gov. Dan McKee said staffing is the biggest issue facing the entire health-care industry right now, and that he was in discussions with nursing home representatives.

“We would look at any options and work with the General Assembly leadership on developing those options,” McKee said.

In a joint statement Tuesday afternoon Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said when the House and Senate return to session in two weeks, “we plan to meet with all stakeholders to develop solutions that focus on patient care, worker well-being and safety, and workforce development.”

Because of the staffing crisis, 71% of Rhode Island nursing homes are now limiting the number of admissions they will accept, the two nursing home groups said in a statement.

Jim Nyberg, executive director of LeadingAge Rhode Island, said “The implementation of these new requirements simply cannot be met in this environment.”

A delay of the requirements, Nyberg said, “is a far more prudent policy for the state to pursue at this time.”

Email Tom Mooney at: tmooney@providencejournal.com

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI nursing homes seek relief from minimum-staffing law

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