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RI HEALTH

McKee signs R.I. nursing home staffing requirement into law

The new law will establish a minimum standard of 3.58 hours of resident care per day by Jan. 1, 2022.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island occurred in nursing homes, and unions have long sought staffing requirements. And on Thursday afternoon, their demands will finally become a reality when Governor Dan McKee signs the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Act.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The COVID-19 pandemic made a bad situation worse in nursing homes throughout Rhode Island.

Many facilities had shared rooms, and the virus easily spread from one resident to the next. The shortage of personal protective equipment didn’t help. And when hospitals transferred their patients to nursing homes for rehab, they were not always required to test them again for COVID-19, which increased the number of infections.

Many nursing home staffers administrators were often overworked. Others left the industry due to the risk of contracting COVID-19, and for wages so low they couldn’t justify the risk.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island occurred in nursing homes, and unions have long sought mandatory staffing requirements. On Thursday afternoon, that finally become a reality when Governor Dan McKee signs the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Act, which is meant to address the ongoing staffing issues within these homes, according to its sponsors.

“Rhode Island nursing home residents deserve the best possible care and our nursing home staff deserve the support they need to make that happen. Stronger staffing standards and funding for direct care staff will help raise the bar on resident care in our state,” said McKee.

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The new law will establish a minimum standard of 3.58 hours of resident care per day by Jan. 1, 2022. Beginning in 2023, 3.81 hours of resident care per day would be required.

“There is a resident care crisis in our state. Staffing shortages and low wages lead to seniors and people with disabilities not receiving the care they desperately need,” said Senator Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat and sponsor of the bill in the Rhode Island State Senate. “The pandemic, of course, exponentially increased the demands of the job, and exacerbated patients’ needs.”

She added, “We must confront this problem head-on before our nursing home system collapses.”

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During the pandemic, the state was ranked No. 41 in the nation in terms of the number of average hours of care nursing home residents received, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This also means that Rhode Island has one of the lowest average resident-care hours per day of any New England state.

The bill will also secure funding to raise wages for direct caregivers, many of them women of color, to recruit and retain a stable and qualified workforce. Representative Scott Slater, the sponsor of the bill in the House, said short staffing drives high turnover in nursing homes, which causes undue stress and burnout of the remaining staff. At this time, the average wage for a certified nursing assistant in Rhode Island is less than $15 an hour, and $1 per hour lower than the median wage in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Slater and Goodwin said the legislation will also invest in necessary training and skills enhancement for caregivers.

“This bill is about getting our nursing home patients the quality care that they need and deserve. Our nursing home system was already facing enormous challenges and problems before COVID-19 and the pandemic has only made these issues much worse,” said Slater in a statement Tuesday. “In order for our patients to be treated and cared for properly, these changes to the law must be made.”

The bill was backed by unions and Raise the Bar on Resident Care, which is an advocacy coalition for nursing home workers.

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“Nursing home residents and caregivers have been through so much this past year and this legislation gives us hope that finally there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Adelina Ramos, a certified nursing assistant in Greenville, when the bill passed the Senate Tuesday. “When nursing home workers have better staffing, it means we will finally be able to give our residents the care and attention they deserve.”

But the bill was also opposed by the Rhode Island Health Care Association. Chief executive Scott Fraser said the bill would force closures of some facilities because of the lack of Medicaid reimbursement they already receive to remain functional.





Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.