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Health workers file thousands of understaffing complaints, but NY struggles to enforce its law

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  • Staff Report 

Health care workers in New York are raising alarms over understaffing in hospitals, with nearly 8,000 complaints filed recently, adding to around 660 existing complaints with the state Department of Health.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

Despite this influx, enforcement of the 2021 minimum-staffing laws has resulted in only 11 citations against hospitals for violations. The law, intended to ensure adequate staffing levels, is facing challenges in implementation, with nine hospitals currently under review for potential fines.

The 2021 staffing law also applies to nursing homes, but no penalties have been issued in this sector due to legal challenges and industry opposition. Meanwhile, specific hospitals have been identified for violating the staffing law, including Mount Sinai health system facilities, NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals in Manhattan, Mohawk Valley Health System, Erie County Medical Center, and Montefiore Medical Center sites.

In one notable case, nurses at Mount Sinai were awarded $220,000 by an arbitrator for working in understaffed units.

The complaints span across New York State, with hospitals in Monroe, Ontario, Dutchess, Orange, and Westchester counties mentioned, though specific hospital names were not disclosed.

The complaints include serious allegations such as ICU nurses working with inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios and patient care units left without attendants. Hospitals and nursing homes cite challenges like pandemic burnout and insufficient government reimbursements, particularly Medicaid, as obstacles to meeting staffing requirements.

In response, lawmakers have approved a 7.5% increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals, with further increases expected to be sought in the next budget.