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McKee allows nursing homes to bypass minimum staffing requirements

The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act was signed into law by McKee in May 2021. Now, the governor says, critical staff shortages justify a moratorium on enforcement of the law and its financial penalties.

The hallway of a local nursing home.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee signed an executive order Friday that allowed nursing homes to operate under the state’s minimum staffing requirements without being penalized.

The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act was signed into law by McKee in May 2021, which implements minimum staffing requirements in licensed nursing facilities. When he signed the bill into law, it came after a three year battle between nursing home owners trade associations, like the Rhode Island Health Care Association, and unions representing frontline workers.

But the law, according to the executive order, “imposes significant penalties for nursing facilities that do not maintain the mandated hours per resident day of care by direct caregivers.”


McKee wrote that the only way for nursing facilities to maintain the staff-to-resident ratio necessary to meet the law’s requirements is to reduce the number of residents residing in the facility. The moratorium, which will allow nursing homes to bypass the requirement without fear of financial penalties set by the law, will take effect immediately and remain in force through Feb. 14. McKee will be able to extend the executive order at that time.

In November, a RIHCA and Leading Age survey found that 77 nursing homes reported more than 1,920 staff openings, including 983 openings for nursing assistants and nearly 450 for registered nurses.

“The temporary flexibility provided by this Executive Order will allow nursing home facilities additional time to hire staff while continuing to provide the appropriate level of care to residents,” said Alana O’Hare, a spokeswoman in the governor’s office, in a statement to the Globe. “The Order also helps to ensure that nursing home facilities are not put in the position of reducing the number of residents in their facility to comply with the minimum staffing ratio, which would result in important health care resources being taken offline from the continuum of care needed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents.”


House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, issued a joint statement, saying McKee’s executive order goes too far.

“The nursing home staffing legislation enacted last year is critical to ensuring adequate care for residents,” they said. “We were not consulted prior to today’s issuance of the executive order. Upon initial review, it appears that this executive order far exceeds the scope of last year’s legislation by also suspending vital (Center for Medicaid Services) staffing requirements for registered nurses.”

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz. Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.