Virginia lawmakers reject setting standards for nursing home staffing — for now

January 29, 2020

Daily Press

By Dave Ress

Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, seen during the opening of Virginia’s General Assembly on Jan. 8, said she’ll keep pushing for new regulations of nursing homes. (Jonathon Gruenke/Daily Press)

Brushing off — for the 16th time — a proposal to set minimum staff levels for Virginia nursing homes, which are ranked among the nation’s worst for the number of patients per caregiver, a state Senate panel decided to recommend a study group instead.

The Senate Health subcommittee rejected on a voice vote a proposal from state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, that would have said nursing homes need to provide at least one direct care staffer for every six patients.

“Families are stressed to the max trying to make sure their loved ones get the care they need,” said Sam Kukich of Poquoson, after telling the panel about her late mother-in-law’s 55 falls while in a Peninsula nursing home and the 65 pounds she lost there because she didn’t get the help she needed to eat.

Residents who need help eating, showering, moving around and going to the bathroom get an average of two hours of direct care staff time a day, she said.

“A lot have given up,” she said.

Erin Hines, a certified nurse assistant from the Peninsula, said she often is assigned 20, 30 or 40 patients a shift.

“Call lights are going unanswered because there is no one to answer,” she said.

But Scott Johnson, a lobbyist for the state nursing home association, said the bill wouldn’t help because it was a one-size-fits-all standard. He said the real problem was that nursing homes have problems attracting enough good staff members.

Subcommittee Chairman Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac, said the problem was serious but the cost to address the issue could be large. And subcommittee member Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, said that while nursing home shortfalls in care are egregious, she thought Kiggans’ bill would do more harm than good.

Kiggans said she would be back.

“These are my people,” she said, afterward. “This is why I ran for office.”

Most Hampton Roads nursing homes have fewer nurses and aides and more violations of health standards than the national averages, putting patients at increased risk of injury or untreated illness, Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot investigations found last year.

Inspectors found multiple violations of state standards of care at virtually every nursing home in Hampton Roads, a review of the latest round of reports shows.

Out of 64 area nursing homes, only two had no deficiencies in care reported, the papers’ analysis of U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services records found.

Many of the facilities where Hampton Roads’ most vulnerable adults live — those often unable to feed themselves, move around or even speak — exceed national averages for resident injuries from falls and open wounds from lying too long in one position, the newspapers found after reviewing several hundred pages of state inspection reports and federal data.

Roughly 60 percent of Hampton Roads homes reported patients having open skin wounds more often than the national average. The same percentage of homes reported above average numbers of residents became less mobile during their stay.

Since 2001, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said homes needed to have enough registered nurses to provide 45 minutes of care a day for each resident. Only 11 of Hampton Roads’ 57 homes met this standard.