Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bill Targets Nursing Home Staffing

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bill Targets Nursing Home Staffing

Article excerpt

Nursing homes in New Jersey can have as many -- or as few -- nurse's aides on duty as they see fit, but some Democratic lawmakers are pushing for a new minimum-staffing mandate.

They have backed a bill that would require a minimum of one certified nursing assistant per every eight residents on the day shift, one for every 10 on the evening shift and one for every 16 on the overnight shift.

"Without a minimum standard, there really isn't any way to make sure that some facilities aren't trying to get away with as little staff as possible," said Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, D-Paramus, one of the bill's many sponsors.

The bill passed the state Senate on Dec. 17, after committee hearings in which lawmakers heard testimony from a number of nurse's aides who told stories of having to rush patients through their meals and other daily rituals and of not being able to linger at the bedside of a patient who is dying and alone.

Nursing home operators largely testified against the bill, persuading sponsors to lessen what were originally more stringent staffing ratios but failing to get the Senate to consider a number of other amendments.

The Assembly's last day of voting for the current session is Monday. If not passed then, sponsors would have to reintroduce the measure after the new Legislature is seated and start the committee hearing process all over again.

Even as industry lobbyists contend that a majority of the state's nursing homes already meet the staffing levels dictated in the proposed bill, they are trying to persuade lawmakers to delay action to have more time to consider what they call a much more complicated personnel equation.

The new staffing requirements could cost the industry as much as $67 million to hire as many as 2,000 new nurse's aides -- at a time when such workers are in short supply and managed care reforms could lower the government reimbursements that help pay their salaries, said Jonathan Dolan, president of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, an industry group.

Nursing home operators also argue the legislation would handcuff them in their hiring. Some facilities might need fewer nurse's aides because they need more specially trained registered nurses for patients on ventilators, or more physical therapists for rehab cases, or more night-time activity coordinators for residents who are active after dinner.

"There really isn't a one-size-fits-all approach that can be taken with staffing," said Michelle Kent, chief executive officer of Leading Age New Jersey, a group that represents non-profit nursing home operators.

"Every nursing home's needs are different, and they need a lot of flexibility to decide from day to day and week to week on how to staff these facilities."

Sponsors say the bill is in part a response to the poor scores received last year on a national AARP survey, which ranked New Jersey nursing homes 49th out of 50 states on preventing bedsores. …

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