opinion Newport Rhode Island

The following was submitted by Raise The Bar on Resident Care, a coalition of nursing home caregivers, clergy members, community partners, nursing home residents, and family members working to end the staffing crisis in Rhode Island nursing homes. 

This week marks a bleak milestone for Rhode Island as nursing home resident and caregiver deaths surpassed 1,000. Rhode Island is just one of three states in the country where long term care COVID-19 deaths account for over 70% of COVID-19 deaths in the state, dramatically higher than the national average of 40%. As case levels explode around the state, nursing home workers and residents continue to suffer from painfully inadequate staffing levels that puts their lives at risk.

“Nursing home heroes and our state’s most vulnerable citizens have been the victims of dangerously low short staffing for decades – the pandemic is pushing them to a breaking point,” said Adanjesus Marin, Coordinator of Raise the Bar on Resident Care. “There is a direct correlation between staffing levels and infection control violations yet the industry continues to claim they are powerless to stop the spread. It is time our elected officials hold industry leaders accountable to keeping nursing home residents and caregivers safe as their lives are put at risk daily.

Rhode Island ranks 41st in the nation for the average hours of care each resident receives per day according to new data reported to CMS by nursing homes.  Multiple studies, including one most recently from Harvard School of Public Health, equate higher staffing with lower COVID-19 infection rates.  Frontline caregivers are stretched to limit having to provide care to upwards of 10-15 residents each, many of whom are critically ill with COVID-19. As COVID-19 cases surge, demands on caregivers are only set to increase.

“The pandemic has been absolutely heartbreaking – I left work every day crying because I felt I couldn’t do enough to save residents dying from COVID-19,” said Stefania Silvestri, a registered nurse at RN, works at Greenville Center where up to 79 residents became ill with COVID-19 and at least 20 have died. “Because of short staffing, we had to body bag our own residents and many caregivers and their families contracted the virus, including myself and my husband who lost his job and our medical benefits. And as COVID-19 cases surge again, nothing has changed – we still don’t have the staffing we need to keep us safe.” 

Despite their claims to the contrary, the nursing home industry can afford staffing, having earned $241 million in total profit in 2017-2018. Additionally, Rhode Island’s nursing homes received over $60 million in additional state and federal funding since April 1 to support increased staffing, testing and PPE. And according to Skilled Nursing News, “the new Medicare payment model for nursing homes provided $200 more per day than the system it replaced in October 2019. That works out to about $90,000 extra in bottom-line revenue each month for a facility with an average of 15 Medicare residents each day.”

“Every day nursing home residents and frontline heroes are dying from COVID-19 yet the industry continues to obscenely claim they can’t afford the staffing and support needed to help contain the spread,” continued Adanjesus Marin. “It is imperative that the Legislature acts swiftly to make nursing homes safer for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents and hold the nursing home industry accountable by passing the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act.” 

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