PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A group that represents nursing homes at the State House is raising concerns over proposed legislation that would raise the state’s minimum staffing requirements.

Scott Fraser, president of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, told the House Finance Committee Wednesday that the minimum staffing bill is unrealistic and would put many of the state’s nursing homes out of business.

“This bill is about the future of nursing homes in Rhode Island,” Fraser said. “If this bill passes, nursing homes in this state will close. Period. There is no way homes can comply with the provisions of this bill and stay in business. It really is that simple.”

The minimum staffing legislation, sponsored by Rep. Scott Slater, requires nursing homes to provide 4.1 hours of direct care daily to each resident. It would also increase staff pay to at least $15 per hour.

Right now, Rhode Island nursing homes provide an average of 3.6 hours of direct care to each resident, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Fraser testified that Rhode Island’s nursing homes are already nationally ranked, and argued therefore, “there is absolutely no need to mandate a greater number of hours of care.”

“Passage of this legislation would result in a huge financial burden to our nursing homes at a
time when some are on the financial edge,” he continued.

Attorney General Peter Neronha is among those who support the legislation, arguing that Rhode Island “is one of only a handful of states not to have a nursing home staffing standard.”

“Consequently, our state ranks near the bottom of the national average for hours of care provided to nursing home residents,” Neronha testified. “Many falls, infections and other injuries can be prevented by ensuring that health care workers are spending the time we know nursing home residents need to be safe and well cared for.”

In a letter demanding lawmakers reject the bill, RIHCA said the state’s nursing homes are “grossly underfunded” by the state’s Medicaid program.

“This legislation is poised to add further unfunded mandates,” the letter reads. “In addition, it restricts our ability to run our facilities for the best benefit of our residents.”

RIHCA represents 64 of the state’s 81 nursing homes.

The testimony comes soon after a Providence nursing home announced its plans to close due to financial losses during the coronavirus pandemic. A North Providence nursing home also recently filed for court protection after suffering significant fiscal distress.