State Failed To Obey Statute To Regulate Nursing Home Staffing
A lawsuit alleging nursing home understaffing was dismissed by a Sacramento Superior Court judge last month because state officials have failed to adopt regulations to enforce minimum-staffing requirements, the Sacramento Bee reports.
A 1999 state law required health officials to adopt regulations mandating that skilled nursing homes provide at least 3.2 nursing hours per patient day, a move that would involve calculating and averaging daily staffing levels.
However, because state officials have failed to adopt any regulations, Judge Loren McMaster dismissed the lawsuit, explaining that it is "asking courts to resolve disputes that should have been resolved by the timely enactment of regulations."
McMaster said he cannot order the state to obey the statute because it was not a party in the suit. He added, however, that state departments cannot "pick and choose" which laws to follow.
Suanne Buggy, spokesperson for the Department of Public Health, said the agency does not agree that a staffing regulation is necessary, arguing that current standards and guidelines are sufficient and that regulators are enforcing the law.
In an audit of 248 nursing homes this year, 189 failed to meet the staffing standard during at least one of 24 days studied, according to records.
However, it appears that more facilities are meeting the staffing requirements. About 20% of freestanding nursing homes in 2005 reported staffing levels below the state standard, down from 49% in 2001, according to a 2007 report by the California HealthCare Foundation.
Meanwhile, state health officials plan to follow a court order to replace the current staffing standards with staff-to-patient ratios.
Legislation passed six years ago required the state to adopt such ratios by August 2003, but officials failed to do so. However, a San Francisco Superior Court judge in July ordered the state to act immediately.
As a result, the Department of Public Health has introduced an emergency regulation to adopt the ratio levels, but it would not take effect until it secures an estimated $208 million in funding, largely from Medi-Cal.
With the state facing a $10 billion budget deficit, the timeline for the new regulation is up in the air, according to the Bee (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, 12/9).
CHCF publishes California Healthline.