opinion Newport Rhode Island

Nursing home residents deserve quality care. When an individual or a family makes the difficult decision to choose placement in a nursing home or long-term care facility, they do so with the expectation that they will be receiving quality, nurturing care.

Sadly, for years we have heard from our constituents and frontline caregivers that nursing home residents are not always receiving sufficient quality of care, a problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Residents need greater certainty of quality care, including the implementation of guaranteed staffing minimums and standards.

That is why we sponsored legislation to make our nursing homes safer. The legislation sets a state standard, with minimum hours of care to residents. We want to give patients and their families the peace of mind that comes from knowing these standards and protections are in place on the state level to ensure staffing levels that adequately meet the needs of residents. Our legislation, which have passed both the House and Senate, makes it clear that patient care and protection is a priority.

No one wants to imagine our loved ones waiting for hours for a nurse to assist them. Yet too often this is the reality, as caring but short-staffed nurses rush from resident to resident, unable to give any one of them the time they need and deserve.

Even before the pandemic, Rhode Island was an outlier nationally for staffing levels in our nursing homes. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Rhode Island’s nursing homes ranked 40th in the country and last in New England for average hours of care received by residents. 

Leading experts affirm there was a correlation between low staffing and higher COVID-19 death rates, recommending improved staffing as an immediate step to improve safety for our frailest nursing home residents. Indeed, Rhode Island’s congregate care residents were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of all deaths were in long-term care settings.

Clearly, change is needed. In development of our legislation, we sought input from many stakeholders, including the nursing home industry, frontline caregivers, senior advocacy organizations, and family members of residents. We then convened a working group in the Legislature to develop an amended version of our Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act this year.

Together with these stakeholders, which included the Senior Agenda Coalition and other community organizations, we forged a compromise similar to that of our neighbors in Massachusetts. The goal of this compromise was to improve patient care while balancing the need to implement safer staffing. Our bill allocates more Medicaid funding resources, increases pay for dedicated frontline caregivers, and includes job categories in the standards for nursing homes which provide rehabilitation services.

The result was a bill, passed overwhelmingly with bi-partisan support, which will lead to public policy that will improve the lives of thousands of nursing home residents, their families and the frontline workers who provide around-the-clock care.

No sooner had the bill passed the House than Scott Fraser, CEO of the for-profit nursing home advocacy group, disingenuously attacked it. Mr. Fraser, who had publicly said on multiple occasions that nursing homes averaged 3.6 hours of care, suddenly claimed this standard was too high. In fact, almost two-thirds of Rhode Island nursing homes are already at the staffing standard of 3.58 or higher, which will go into effect in 2022, and another 20% are already very close to the standard.

There are many nursing home owners who already offer safe staffing and high quality care. Our legislation levels the playing field and holds a handful of very poorly staffed nursing homes accountable, generating transparent, quality care in every setting.

The state’s population of people ages 75-84 is expected to grow by 30 percent by 2025. The General Assembly will continue to collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders and industry leaders to ensure the quality of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, while expanding options available to meet long-term care needs, including choice and access to home care services to meet the growing demand for long-term care.

Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-District 1, Providence) and Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-District 10, Providence) are the sponsors of the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act.

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