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Ortt proposing bills to increase state oversight of nursing homes

A state senator from Niagara County announced Thursday he is proposing a package of bills to protect nursing home residents and improve the care they receive in facilities across the state.

State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said that, while he was prompted into action by a series of stories published by The Buffalo News about abuses at local nursing homes, the bills he is proposing were also prompted by complaints he received from constituents who have loved ones in poorly run nursing homes.

"I have a couple of facilities in my district and, over the four years that I've been here, it has just sort of been a recurring theme," Ortt said in an interview Thursday with The News.

Ortt said it did not seem to him that the state was adequately enforcing its own standards to hold nursing homes accountable.

The first bill in his package aims to increase the state's regulatory enforcement capability by requiring the presence of certified, third-party or independent quality monitors at failing nursing homes to ensure that those facilities are in compliance with their corrective plans.

"The independent monitor would be contracted by the facility, but according to Department of Health standards and training. It would be contracted by the facility to make sure that they are complying with their corrective action after they have been written up or after they have been notified of failing," said Ortt.

The bill would also authorize the state Department of Health to enter a nursing home whenever the state deemed conditions posed a danger to residents.

"Right now, the state, they are certainly able to make unannounced visits, and I am sure there are times when they do. But in my conversations with staff at these facilities, as well as families, that is not the common practice," Ortt said.

Jennifer Page removed her father from Absolut Care of Aurora Park nursing home in East Aurora because she said it provided poor care in 2019. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Also, he said, when the state does inspections, they are commonly announced visits that occur on weekdays during regular business hours.

"We feel that if they came for second and third shifts or maybe on a weekend, they would get a better picture of whether that facility was meeting the minimum guidelines," said Ortt.

The third bill in the package would prevent owners of a nursing home from purchasing new nursing homes while any of the facilities they currently own are in violation or facing compliance issues. It also includes a two-year probation period between coming into compliance and being able to acquire a new facility.

Ortt said independent monitor bills have previously been introduced by Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City.

"Senator Hannon lost his election. That bill, I have endeavored to pick up as the lead sponsor in the Senate. ... I'm sure there's several co-sponsors in both houses," said Ortt, who said his legislation has not yet been assigned bill numbers.

He said he hoped the legislation will also find sponsors in the Democratic-controlled Assembly and in the Senate, where Democrats will hold the majority in January.

"If there are Democratic senators that want to pick up these bills or sign on with me or work to get them passed, I am happy to do so," he added.

Ortt said, regardless of party affiliation, many people will end up in nursing homes, if a loved one of theirs is not already.

"I don't think there are too many Democratic or Republican nursing facilities," Ortt said.

"That, really, is why this should be of concern, or of interest, to a large swath of New Yorkers," Ortt added.

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