RIHCA urges suspension of nursing home minimum staffing law

PROVIDENCE – According to the Rhode Island Health Care Association, nursing homes in the Ocean State are about to face millions in fines for failing to comply with standards in a new law requiring minimum staffing levels.

The Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act, signed into law in May 2021, went into effect at the beginning of this year. The legislation calls for a minimum of 3.58 hours of daily care for each nursing home resident throughout this year. On Jan. 1, 2023, mandatory care increases to 3.81 hours per day.

Facilities that fail to comply will be fined by the R.I. Department of Health.

In a May 12 letter to the House Finance Committee, Dr. James McDonald, Rhode Island’s interim health director, said that first-quarter fines will likely total $13 million, and increase to $68 million for a full year. The amounts are based on a RIDOH review of the most current nursing home staffing data in the state.

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McDonald urged the passing of H 8063, a bill introduced in late March that would suspend minimum staffing level compliance and fines until June 30.

John E. Gage, CEO and president of the health care association, supports the bill as well.

Rhode Island nursing homes, he said, have seen cuts of $250 million over the past decade by R.I. Medicaid. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ocean State’s nursing home workforce has shrunk by 21%, he added.

“This poses an existential threat to the future viability of our state’s nursing homes. In this economic environment, complying with this law is not possible,” Gage said. “There are simply not sufficient workers available to achieve the standards. Implementing this legislation at the height of an unprecedented labor crisis and imposing crippling fines will most certainly be a death sentence for nursing homes in Rhode Island.”

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.