ALBANY (TNS) — Gov. Kathy Hochul temporarily prevented a new law from taking effect that would require the state’s nursing home operators to beef up staffing and provide residents with a minimum level of daily care.

The law was passed by the state Legislature in 2021 in response to criticism that years of chronic understaffing across the industry left facilities unprepared to care for residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was set to take effect this past weekend.

Hochul cited ongoing labor shortages in the health care sector as the reason for the order, which she signed on New Year’s Eve. The order also extends for another month a statewide disaster emergency declaration she first issued in September in response to the staffing shortages.

Samantha Fuld, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, confirmed the law’s delay.

”While nursing homes are encouraged to comply, in light of the current staffing crisis, the (executive order) suspension makes it clear that noncompliance will not be a violation of the Public Health Law, so as to prevent penalizing facilities that cannot comply due to the emergency,” Fuld said.

Nursing home leaders applauded the delay this week, saying the law would have exacerbated an already difficult situation for facilities struggling to recruit and retain workers.

”At a time when nursing homes are already facing a staff shortage of epic proportion, enforcing staffing ratios would have only exacerbated this crisis and been detrimental to both our workers and residents, pushing the industry past the brink of tragedy,” said Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, a trade association representing long-term care facilities.

Unions representing health care workers disagreed, saying the law is necessary to compel nursing homes to act. In the years leading up to the pandemic, workers routinely staged rallies to protest low staffing levels — arguing the barebones staffing was fueling burnout and putting resident safety and wellbeing at risk.

”Without enforced staffing standards, nursing homes will not be able to retain the staff the residents depend on,” said Yvonne Armstrong, a senior executive vice president with 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “Dedicated caregivers are being driven from the bedside by the impossibility of providing the care that residents need without appropriate resources.”

The new law requires the state health commissioner to establish minimum staffing standards for nursing homes that included at least 3.5 hours of nursing care per resident per day.

It also would require homes to spend at least 70 percent of their revenue on direct resident care, and at least 40 percent on staff who deal with residents. A state attorney general’s report published last year called out the growing for-profit sector for pocketing profits while leaving their nursing facilities understaffed.

Industry representatives argue it’s the state’s history of low Medicaid reimbursement, however, that’s driven staffing shortages and say increasing the rate is a step that could be taken immediately to address the crisis.

Nursing home operators are fighting to permanently block the law.

More than 250 homes as well as trade groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany last month claiming the new requirements violate the U.S. Constitution as an improper “taking” of private property for a public purpose. They also claim the law runs counter to the Supremacy Clause by confiscating federal dollars flowing to nursing homes through Medicare, the federal health care program for the elderly.

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