Calls for changes to nursing home industry standards

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We learn something new almost every day about COVID-related deaths in nursing homes across New York state.

Much of the coverage has focused on the state Department of Health’s directive on March 25, which some claim caused more seniors to die from the virus.

We’re also hearing this week about new bills that, if passed, could prevent similar tragedies in the future. They look to establish safe staffing levels, more oversight, and adequate PPE levels — all things direct care workers and their unions have been trying to address for years.

"I want you to care. I want you to walk the halls of our facility," Mallette Cooper said. "I want you to see our patient slumped in bed and crying and wet and soiled. I want you to walk through my facility and not just look at things that may make you more money one day. I want you to look and see my residents. I want you to see my residents as human beings and not money."

That’s the message Cooper, a licensed practical nurse of 30 years, has for the CEO of Centers Health Care, Kenny Rozenberg.

She says every day staff members at Delmar Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing have to prioritize resident care because they’re stretched too thin.

"We’ve actually been told that if we don’t like it we can go somewhere else," Cooper said.

Cooper says they don’t even have access to clean towels and washcloths for their residents because management refuses to buy more.

Meanwhile, Rozenberg agreed to a 25-year, $100 million loan with his 26-year-old son last fall, allowing him to buy an Israeli airline.

"Do you know how much fire that puts into us?" Cooper asked. "You know what, we can’t even get soap, and you’re buying airlines. They need to have the basics, a toothbrush, a washcloth, a towel. I mean, they stopped buying washcloths a while ago. It’s just these paper washcloths. It’s inhumane. It’s inhumane the way we’re treating them."

These have been issues for years, but all the attention on nursing home COVID-19 deaths has brought them to the forefront.

That’s why 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is pushing for several new laws they believe will improve care across the nursing home industry here in New York.

"We see it as an opportunity to then fix what has been broken for so long," Milly Silva, executive vice president of 1199SEIU, said.

Silva says they’re pushing for legislation that would mandate for-profit nursing homes spend at least 70% of Medicare and Medicaid dollars on direct care.

They’re looking to improve transparency, particularly with nursing home owners who also own the staffing agencies or pharmacies they contract with.

They also want to see regular audits with significant financial penalties for companies that fail to meet established standards.

We’ve already seen some pushback from the Empire State Association of Assisted Living. Those facilities would be subject to the same requirements. ESAAL said the new measures, "coupled with an inability to correct minor infractions without penalty have many assisted living providers concerned about their continued ability to keep their doors open."

"If we care about our seniors, we should hold ourselves up to the highest standards of care, and that means that if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, that we’re willing to pay the price," Silva said. "If it’s increasing penalties as a way to discourage and disincentivize those bad actors in this industry, then that’s what we should do. That’s what I would want for my mom, for my grandmother, and I’m sure that that’s what they would expect for their loved ones as well."

If that doesn’t convince you investments need to be made in direct care, maybe this will:

"People just have to remember one day they’re going to be you. One day it will be you," Cooper said.

NewsChannel 13 reached out to Centers Health Care for comment. They sent this statement:

"All facilities in the Centers Health Care family, including Delmar Center on Rockefeller Road in Delmar, meet the state mandated staffing numbers under the guidelines put forth by the N.Y. State Department of Health. If there are holes or gaps in staffing, the company has floating nurses at all times in all regions to fill those vacancies. Additionally, Delmar works with their other sister Centers facilities in the Capital region to fill any openings and the company offers bonus pay to employees who have a day off to come to work.

The statement that Centers Health Care facilities are no longer purchasing towels, washcloths or other necessary toiletries is preposterous. All facilities are fully up to code with all necessary toiletries, plus anything sanitary that meets the guidelines of the state and county.

Delmar Center, plus all Centers Health Care facilities, have worked tirelessly every day to keep residents and staff safe from Covid-19 and will continue to do so right through the life of this pandemic, plus its variant strains."

Centers did not have a comment on the push for new legislation.

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 13 for updates on this story.

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