New York State Lawmakers Pass Nurse Safe Staffing Bill

The passing of legislation for safe nurse staffing for New York State hospitals and nursing homes was a historical moment on May 4, 2021. The two bills were passed by both the New York State Assembly and Senate and now only await the signature of Governor Cuomo.

Safe staffing bill passed after decades

This breakthrough came after bills that would regulate nurse staffing in New York State had been on the legislative agenda for over 20 years.

Contributing to the eventual approval of the bill was that the nurse staffing crisis, especially in nursing homes, was starkly highlighted by the COVID epidemic.

“We have been trying to do something for years and years, and it certainly shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to finally see that,” said Pat Kane, Executive Director of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). “But I think we’ve all been through so much, and this is a very good way of saying that we hear you.”

A significant factor in the delay was the controversial issue of whether fixed nurse-patient ratios should be prescribed in law, as in the case of California. The main argument is that this did not provide for the unique circumstances of each health care facility and over time.  

The legislation that was eventually approved managed to work around this issue, partly bypassing two bills – one for hospitals and one for nursing homes.

Nurse staffing law for hospitals

Hospitals will be required to establish a Staffing Committee of which at least 50% of the members must be nurses. This committee will be responsible for developing an annual staffing plan for nurses and other clinical frontline workers.

The committees will also need to oversee the implementation of the plan. They will, in turn, be monitored by an advisory committee which reports to the Governor.

When a committee cannot reach an agreement on staffing levels, hospital administrators may set their own standards, but the plan will have to be reviewed by the state Department of Health (DOH).

Hospitals will also have to post their staffing plans to be seen by the public and on the official hospital profile on the DOH website. The first staffing plans have to be completed and adopted by July 2022 and implemented by January 2023.

Nurse staffing law for nursing homes

The high rates of infection and deaths in nursing homes during the COVID pandemic “exposed extensive flaws in our adult care facilities,” emphasized Senate sponsor Sen. Gustavo Rivera.  “Unfortunately, we have seen that an understaffed nursing home is a dangerous environment that can lead to harm and injury to residents.”

The bill prescribes a minimum of 3.5 hours of nursing care for nursing home residents, of which at least 1.1 hours must be provided by registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. Certified nursing assistants may give the remainder of care.

Nursing homes are also mandated to post information about nurse staffing at their facility to be visible to the public.

The Commissioner of Health will be responsible for minimum standards for staffing at nursing homes and may impose civil penalties for those who fail to meet the standards. The Commissioner may, however, consider mitigating factors such as the inability to recruit nursing staff. The law for nursing homes will become effective on January 1st of 2022. 

However, nursing home administrators are expressing concerns about the increased financial burden from having to hire additional staff without any assistance from the government. They also believe that they will not be able to find enough nurses as they are already struggling to recruit staff.  

Safe nurse staffing is a win-win for all

Studies have shown that safe nurse staffing improves health outcomes and saves lives. It not only benefits nurses but the public as well.

The New York State Nurses Association is asking everyone to “Sign the petition to tell Governor Cuomo to sign the safe staffing legislation now to put us on a safer, healthier path to recovery and quality care for ALL!” Follow this link to sign the petition.  

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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