NURSING HOME REFORM: Bill Passes Health and Human Services Committee
A bill aimed at reforming California's nursing home system passed a "key legislative test" yesterday, when it cleared the Health and Human Services Committee on a 6-2 vote. The legislation, AB 1731, calls for increased civil penalties against violating nursing homes, from $25,000 to as much as $100,000, and provides bonuses for "exemplary homes." Proposed by Gov. Gray Davis (D), Sen. Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) is spearheading the bill's movement through the Legislature. Supporters contend the measure is "one step closer to real reforms" and will pressure nursing homes to hire more staff. But opponents of the measure, say the provisions "will do little for the burdened industry." Although the Service Employees International Union supports AB 1731, Beth Capell, a lobbyist for the group, said that "more staffing requirements are needed," and that the union will "keep pressure up" next week for the inclusion of a provision to "increase the minimum required nurse hours per patient from 3.2 to 4.1 per day." Patricia McGinnis, executive director of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, also criticized the bill for requiring an independent doctor to review any allegations against a nursing home before the state issues a citation. She said, "What's the use of increasing the fine when (the bill makes it) more difficult to (issue) a citation?" The measure now heads to the Legislature's conference committee, where it may be amended (Fields, Los Angeles Times, 6/15).
In other nursing home news, workers yesterday called on Davis to support a 7.5% pay increase already approved by both chambers of the Legislature. The governor called for only a 5% hike in his budget proposal in January. Although it will only result in an increase of 20 cents to 30 cents per hour, Capell said: "We're hopeful the governor will support the 7.5% increase, but he has not said whether he will. We don't expect to get this fully corrected in a single year. But we really do hope that we will get the 7.5%." The union also is asking for a maximum ratio of one nurse's aide for "five residents on the day shift; 1-to-10 in the evening; and 1-to-15 at night" (Pope, San Jose Mercury News, 6/15).