Chair of the general law committee, Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, discusses a bill. Sens. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, and Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, in background.
Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, discusses a nursing home staffing bill. Sens. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, and Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, in background.

Senate Democrats unveiled a proposal Thursday to encourage nursing homes to maximize staff assigned to direct patient care.

But the bill’s fate may rest with the state’s ongoing budgetary challenges.

The measure would require nursing homes to disclose the specific number of direct care staff assigned to provide patient care. For example, if a nurse chiefly performed administrative work, that nurse could not be counted as a care provider.

“In essence it’s a consumer protection bill,” said Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, co-chairman of the legislature’s Committee on Aging. “It’s a right-to-know bill.”

Majority Democrats in the Senate cited 2018 research from Kaiser Health News that analyzed daily payroll records from more than 14,000 nursing homes nationwide. It found that most had fewer staff actually involved in care-taking than were shown in federal Medicaid reports — which don’t distinguish whether a class of employee normally involved in patient care is actually performing a different function.

The levels of staff directly assigned to patient care has a link to positive patient outcomes, Maroney said, adding that the issue is critical in Connecticut, which has one of the oldest populations, on average, in the United States.

Connecticut has approximately 27,000 nursing home beds and about 85 percent of them are occupied, according to Maroney.

The state’s largest healthcare workers union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NE, is backing the measure, arguing too many facilities in Connecticut have insufficient staff providing direct care.

“If we have more staffing, then the care in the facility will be greater,” said Yvonne Foster of Bloomfield, a union member and caregiver at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center. “This is taking a toll on us as staff as well as on the residents. With less staffing we cannot give the care that we give.”

The head of the state’s largest nursing home association praised Senate Democrats for drawing attention to the nursing home staffing issue.

Matthew Barrett, head of the Conn. Association of Health Care Facilities

But Matthew V. Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities, said his group — which represents about 160 nursing homes and assisted living communities — would prefer a broader discussion.

Nursing home staffing “is among the most — if it is not the most — important issues that Connecticut nursing homes face,” Barrett said.

During the past eight years, former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy raised awareness about the correlation between quality care and adequate wages and benefits for caregivers.

[About 70 percent of Connecticut’s nursing home patients’ care is covered in the state budget through the Medicaid program, about $1.2 billion per year.]

And after more than a decade of payments to nursing homes that haven’t matched the rate of inflation, “much work needs to be done,” Barrett said. “You could call it a lost decade in terms of nursing home funding.”

The bill could enjoy bipartisan support. Sen. Kevin Kelly of Stratford, ranking GOP senator on the Committee on Aging, said afterward that “direct patient care is tied directly to healthy outcomes.”

But Kelly added he would like to see greater legislative focus on initiatives to help Connecticut seniors receive more care in their homes, which generally is less costly that nursing home care.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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  1. Securing adequate nursing care has long been “challenging”. In CT and elsewhere. Even with private nursing homes. Wages/hours are always a concern. Well to do families often provide private nursing care. The sad reality is that families oft “abandon” their loved ones once the nursing home is involved. Masking for difficult nursing care environments. Above comments reflect experience as a Board member of a major CT nursing home. In a State that sharply taxes hospitals improving working conditions in our private/public nursing homes will be “challenging”.

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