More than half of California’s nursing homes are asking to be exempted from new state regulations that would require them to spend more time directly caring for their patients.
The state’s new staffing requirements for nursing homes, quietly passed in last year’s budget bill, seem universally unpopular. Patient advocates say the new regulations don’t go far enough and that residents remain at risk in poorly staffed homes. Nursing home operators say they can’t hire enough staff to comply.
Under the new rules, which took effect in July but haven’t yet been enforced, skilled nursing facilities must provide at least 3.5 hours of direct care per resident per day, up from 3.2 hours of care previously. That care can range from inserting a feeding tube to changing an adult diaper or helping residents with eating and bathing.
The California Department of Public Health, which oversees nursing homes, is expected to announce in late January which — if any — facilities it will exempt from the new regulations. But some patient advocates don’t like the nursing homes’ balking.
“We’re appalled by the waiver system. It’s sending the worst possible message to California nursing homes that it’s OK to staff at levels that endanger residents,” said Mike Connors of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a consumer advocacy group.
Researchers have strongly linked more nursing staff with better care, with some experts recommending from 3.8 to 4.1 hours of care per patient per day as a bare minimum for quality nursing home care. Having enough staff helps prevent falls, pressure sores and other problems that can land fragile seniors in the hospital.
A recent Kaiser Health News investigation found that for years nursing homes nationwide overstated staffing to the federal government. Now, nursing homes are required to report actual payroll records to remain eligible for Medicare and Medicaid payments.
During the first three months of 2018, 58 percent of California’s skilled nursing facilities averaged at least 3.5 hours of patient care a day, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of payroll records submitted to the federal government. That rose to 76 percent if nursing homes where administrators also were counted were included.