Blocked by lobbyists for years, law puts more aides in N.J. nursing homes after 7,400 deaths

They feed, bathe and comfort residents of long-term care facilities, but the thousands of certified nursing aides who work in New Jersey’s nursing homes for little pay have said for years that their workload is often too much to handle.

On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will require operators beginning in early 2021 to increase the number of aides in each facility and for the first time set a ratio for the number of residents an aide is asked to handle.

The legislation had been vigorously blocked by industry lobbyists and some lawmakers for five years, but there was a renewed urgency to get the bill passed after the coronavirus pandemic claimed the lives of an estimated 7,400 long-term care residents in New Jersey — more than any other state based on population size.

Compliance will cost the industry $30 million or $5 a day per resident, according to the Health Care Association of New Jersey, a lobbying group for long-term care facilities.

CNA’s, who get paid an average of about $36,000 a year, have long complained they have more responsibilities than they can handle, especially on nights and weekends. The coronavirus outbreak sickened thousands of these workers and killed 121, according to state data, making the CNA shortage worse.

“Sadly, too many nursing homes are run by companies more interested in making money than protecting patients,” Murphy said in a statement after signing the bill Friday morning. “These long-sought reforms will help bring accountability to the industry and protect residents, staff, and family members with a loved one living in a long-term care facility. I am proud to have worked with our partners in organized labor, health care advocates, and legislative sponsors to finally implement safe staffing ratios in our nursing homes, as well as other long overdue reforms.”

The legislation, (S2712) will take effect in Feb. 1, and require long-term care facilities to abide by these staffing ratios:

* One CNA per 8 patients during the day shift;

* One direct care staff member — defined as a certified nurse assistant, a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse — for every 10 residents during the evening shift, “provided that no fewer than half of all staff members are to be certified nurse aides, and each staff member will sign in to work as a certified nurse aide and will perform certified nurse aide duties,” according to bill;

* One direct care staffer for every 14 residents during the overnight shift, with the same rules that applied during the evening shift.

The law also creates a “Department of Labor and Workforce Development the Special Task Force on Direct Care Workforce Retention and Recruitment.” Long-term care facility operators have said they could not meet any worker-resident ratios without help retaining staff.

The law has been hailed as a victory for nursing home employees led, by 1199SEIU United Healthcare East, but it is a compromise since the union was seeking an even lower ratio of aides to

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