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Long Time Coming: Cuomo Signs Bills Establishing Nurse-Staffing Minimums


Governor Cuomo June 23 signed a pair of bills into law that will require hospitals to establish committees to set safe-staffing ratios and impose fines on facilities that don’t meet staffing minimums, changes which were long sought after by unions representing Nurses and other hospital workers.

Staffing levels have come under increased scrutiny since the coronavirus pandemic started, and the bills were enacted to improve patient outcomes in hospitals and nursing homes. Studies have shown that every additional patient per nurse increases the chance of death by 7 percent.

'A Major Step Forward'

The Governor called the laws “a major step forward in improving the quality of health care in our health-care facilities.” 

By Jan. 1, every hospital in the state will have to establish clinical-staffing committees, which will develop staffing plans for every patient-care unit. The panels will be made up of at least 50 percent Nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants and other ancillary patient-care staff, and up to 50 percent will be representatives of the hospital’s administration.

By that same date, the state Department of Health must establish safe-staffing ratios for intensive-care units and critical-care units. A second bill sets staffing minimums for nursing homes.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, a Registered Nurse, sponsored the hospital bill. “It's 12 years that I've worked on this bill and…it means so much to me, means so much to all of my colleagues,” she said. “I'm still an RN. I'm one of you and I want to thank you for your service during this awful virus.”

The bills were passed in the State Legislature May 4.

Gives Thanks to Unions

Mr. Cuomo thanked the New York State Nurses Association, Service Employees International Union Local 1199 and Communications Workers of America District 1 for their work collaborating on the bills. The unions, which represent Nurses and other direct-care staff, have pushed for years to set safe-staffing ratios.

The Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents more than 160 institutions, opposed previous versions of the bills that mandated nurse-staffing ratios but backed the current legislation because it “preserves management’s role in designing staffing plans.”

NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane said that “patients, the public, health-care workers, and lawmakers will now have the tools” to address chronic understaffing and improve conditions for care.

The union has argued that inadequate staffing levels have contributed to burnout and Nurses leaving the profession.

“For the first time, enforcement of NYSNA Nurses’ existing contractual safe staffing ratios and grids, as well as new staffing standards, will have the full force of state law behind them,” she said.

'Address Gross Inequities'

The union’s President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez added that the laws would help address “the gross inequities that exist in our health-care system.”

George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, noted that COVID “laid bare the fact that New York's hospitals have been severely understaffed for quite some time.”

“As we continue to battle this ongoing pandemic, and future health crises, it is imperative that facilities have the staffing levels needed to ensure quality care,” he stated.

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