WASHINGTON – Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Tuesday proposed a new federal law to improve hiring practices at places where many seniors spend their last days. She cited a Senate report detailing widespread problems at nursing homes nationwide and also Buffalo News stories that revealed dangerous conditions for residents at several local facilities.
"Unfortunately, a report came out on nursing homes and long-term care facilities that have had problems, and 17 are located in New York State," Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said on a conference call with reporters. "So that is a shocking number, and many of them are in Buffalo, and your reporting has elucidated those concerns."
Gillibrand was referring in part to a June report by Pennsylvania's two senators that listed 488 nursing homes nationwide that have "a persistent record of poor care." The federal government had previously identified the 88 "special focus facilities" that get closer federal review. But the senators' report lists 400 additional facilities that would be special focus facilities if the federal government had the resources to give them more attention.
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Of those 400 facilities, four are in the Buffalo area: Ellicott Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, Buffalo Community Healthcare Center, Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center – which closed in January – and Safire Rehabilitation of Southtowns.
The Buffalo News has published stories detailing problems at all four of the local facilities that are candidates for the federal government's Special Focus Facility program.
In addition, the Pines Healthcare and Rehab Centers Olean Campus is on the senators' list of troubled facilities.
Gillibrand said substandard nursing home care sometimes arises because those facilities don't have enough information about the staff they hire. The federal government publishes a National Practitioner Data Bank that many medical facilities can use to screen potential employees, but long-term care facilities are currently not allowed to access it.
To change that, Gillibrand's bill would expand access to that data bank so that Medicare- and Medicaid-certified skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, hospice programs and pharmacies could use it. Co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, the bill is called the Promote Responsible Oversight and Targeted Employee Background Check Transparency for Seniors (PROTECTS) Act.
"The PROTECTS Act would help improve the standards of care at long-term care facilities by bringing more transparency to workforce quality and protecting our seniors and long-term care patients," Gillibrand said.
Staff errors have plagued some local nursing homes. For example, a patient fell to his death out of a third-floor window at Emerald South in June 2018, and the state Health Department later found that staffers had failed to take adequate precautions to prevent him from doing so. And earlier this year at Gowanda Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, staff waited six hours before reporting a sexual assault and may have destroyed evidence in the case, Health Department inspectors said.
However, concerns about understaffing at such facilities appear to be more widespread than errors tied to poor staff quality. Nevertheless, Gillibrand's bill has won the support of the American Health Care Association and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
"Access to the National Practitioner Data Bank is a significant step toward helping long-term care providers more effectively and efficiently screen potential employees for histories of disciplinary problems from all 50 state licensing boards and any prior terminations for abuse," said Dr. David Gifford, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at the American Health Care Association.