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New Jersey Staffing Bill Expires in Legislative Limbo

New Jersey Staffing Bill Expires in Legislative Limbo

The New Jersey staffing bill sought to solve the understaffing crisis in the state.

A New Jersey staffing bill designed to combat understaffing in nursing homes was shelved after the State Assembly allowed the bill to expire. The decision was announced on Jan. 6, 2020 by multiple news outlets including NJ.com. Despite the bill passing the Senate, it foundered and will now have to be reintroduced in order to begin the process again.

The New Jersey staffing bill, officially called NJ S1612, had passed the State Senate in July 2018, but shortly before a 2019 appropriations hearing the bill was dramatically altered. Under the original text of the New Jersey staffing bill, nursing homes would be required to maintain enough certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to have a CNA-to-resident ratio of 1:8 for a day shift; 1:10 for evening shifts, and 1:16 for a night shift. The bill would also establish a method for computing the appropriate ratio, and provided nine consecutive shifts for nursing homes to adjust the number of CNAs on shift when the number of residents shifted.

Shortly before the appropriations assembly, however, the State Assembly changed the bill so that any type of nurse could be counted towards the CNA-to-resident ratio. This change was necessary, argued Jonathan Dolan, president and chief executive of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, a lobbying firm for nursing home operators. According to Dolan, no nursing home could afford to hire that many CNAs and therefore “It would be, from a workforce and funding perspective, impossible to meet the requirements of this bill.”

Regardless of the changes to the New Jersey staffing bill, however, it was allowed to expire and now must be completely reintroduced, a decision that did not sit lightly with advocates for the bill. Brian Lee, Executive Director of Families for Better Care, made a statement following the bill’s demise telling reporters “New Jersey lawmakers’ decision to shelve mandated staffing levels is a shocking vote in favor of nursing home abuse and neglect. . . . lawmakers have all but guaranteed that residents will suffer more bone fractures, more pressure sores, more physical and sexual assaults, and even more premature deaths.”

A CNA and member of the 1199SEIU nursing home workers union, Margaret Boyce, told reporters that in her 24 of working as a CNA she has seen the number of patients she had to care for double and that “Short staffing makes it very difficult to give our patients safe and proper care.” Boyce described the feeling of seeing residents that needed her as “heartbreaking” because “you can see loneliness in a patient’s eyes, and all they want is a moment of your attention, but you’re too busy with someone else.”

An 1199 SEIU spokesman, Bryn Lloyd-Bollard, has told reporters that the organization plans on supporting the re-introduction of the New Jersey staffing bill when the new legislative session begins in late Jan.

For more information about understaffing and other dangers of neglect, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Neglect Page.