PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee recently signed an executive order that postpones a new state law that implements minimum staffing requirements in nursing homes statewide.
The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act was signed into law last May, and mandates minimum staffing levels and quality care standards.
But due to what some are calling a staffing crisis in nursing homes, the governor has put a pause on it until at least Feb. 14.
“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,” a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement. “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.”
The nursing home industry has long been opposed to the law, arguing that it is too strict and would ultimately lead to fewer available beds.
“The executive action taken by the governor suspends the staffing mandate that required every nursing home in the state to have 3.58 hours of nursing care per resident per day … 2.44 of those hours had to be CNAs, and when we polled our members, 90% can’t meet either one or both of those metrics,” said John Gage, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association.
Gage said a poll of the association’s members, which work for 64 of the 80 nursing homes in the state, revealed nearly 2,000 open positions. That number has only increased, he said.
“Our staffing has always been a challenge, but now, in the middle of a global pandemic with unprecedented labor crisis and inadequate funding to nursing homes, we can’t achieve what they’ve mandated,” Gage said.
Gage added that the fines for not complying would total tens of millions of dollars, which would force many homes to close their doors. He said four nursing homes have already shuttered throughout the pandemic.
“This was one of the highest thresholds that any state has in the country, and nursing homes in Rhode Island were not being cited for poor care, they were not being cited for inadequate staffing,” Gage said. “So really, this law was not required.”
But the move isn’t sitting well with some state leaders.
In a joint statement Friday, R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said they weren’t consulted about McKee’s decision.
“The nursing home staffing legislation enacted last year is critical to ensuring adequate care for residents,” the statement reads. “Upon initial review, it appears that this executive order far exceeds the scope of last year’s legislation by also suspending vital CMS staffing requirements for registered nurses.”
Other state lawmakers also chimed in.
In a social media post, Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin described the executive order as “not good.”
“If I’m not mistaken, one portion of his executive order no longer requires an RN on staff for every shift,” she wrote. “Who is going to dispense the patients meds, and so many other vital tasks operational staff? This is dangerous for our most vulnerable.”
Sen. Samuel Bell also responded, writing “I hope we take this to the R.I. Supreme Court.”