in Coronavirus, Governor Cuomo

Empire Center Article Questioning New York’s Nursing Home Staffing Law Misstates Evidence

The Empire Center’s Bill Hammond published an article, “A Study of COVID-19 in Nursing Homes Raises Doubt About New York’s Minimum Staffing Law,” that argues that “A newly published study of COVID-19 in nursing homes links larger numbers of employees to higher rates of infection and death for residents – raising fresh doubts about New York’s recently enacted “safe staffing” law.”

The state’s new law implements minimum staffing levels for nurses and other direct care staff. According to the Albany Times- Union, sponsors of the law argued that “The recent COVID-19 outbreak has brought attention to the level of care being provided to residents in nursing homes, but the truth is many residents in these facilities have not been receiving a sufficient level of services needed for them to thrive for years,” the bill text reads.”

While the Empire Center article argues that the newly published study “rais[es] fresh doubts about New York’s recently enacted “safe staffing law,” the report cited in Hammond’s piece provides evidence that directly contradicts his argument. The study, “Larger Nursing Home Staff Size Linked To Higher Number Of COVID-19 Cases In 2020” by Brian E. McGarry, Ashvin D. Gandhi, David C. Grabowski, and Michael Lawrence Barnett, was published in Health Affairs. The authors looked directly at whether higher direct care staffing levels per resident were associated with more COVID infections per hundred patients. The report’s data shows that the quarter of institutions with the highest level of direct care staffing per resident had the lowest level of infections, not the highest, as Hammond implies.

The authors conclude, “there was no clear relationship between COVID-19 outcomes and more traditional measures of staffing: ratios of direct care staff hours to residents or the skill mix of direct care hours.”.…” Our findings do not imply that nursing homes should have lower staffing ratios per resident. Many SNFs are barely able to meet their staffing needs. Roughly one in five nursing homes reported a severe staffing shortage in the summer of 2020, during the pandemic, with little improvement over time.6 Also, a large literature supports the importance of nursing home staff toward encouraging good care outcomes.19–21 Rather, our findings suggest that when facilities with the same staffing ratios are being compared, nursing homes that can provide those staff hours with fewer unique staff members will be better able to protect their residents from COVID-19.”

The Empire Center and Bill Hammond performed a notable service by exposing the Cuomo administration’s cover-up of COVID-related nursing home deaths, but this most recent piece is simply misleading.

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