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"Safe Staffing" is New Priority for Nursing Homes in Washington

A new law in Washington state will require nursing homes to have enough staff on duty to give each resident 3.2 hours of direct care daily, starting in July 2016. Courtesy: University of South Florida.
A new law in Washington state will require nursing homes to have enough staff on duty to give each resident 3.2 hours of direct care daily, starting in July 2016. Courtesy: University of South Florida.
July 1, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Jay Inslee has signed what is known as "safe staffing" legislation for nursing homes. The bill was proposed after persistent concerns that at too many facilities, too few caregivers are on hand to meet the needs of residents, and that both groups' safety is at risk as a result.

Shelly Hughes, a certified nursing assistant who has worked in nursing homes for five years, testified for the bill. She says she and coworkers anticipated a multi-year campaign to convince legislators they needed these changes and they were surprised it all came together in this session.

"I feel like the 'age wave,' the fact that there are so many people retiring in our state, is present in folks' minds," says Hughes. "People are starting to talk about it. I believe it's about total care; it's about this continuum of care, so that people can age with dignity in our state."

House Bill 1274 sets a level of direct care per nursing-home resident of just over three hours a day. A committee that includes industry, caregivers, residents and family members will be formed to determine how to meet the staffing levels. The law goes into effect one year from today.

Hughes is on the board of the caregivers' union, SEIU Local 775, which backed the legislation. She predicts it will help attract and retain workers in a demanding field with high turnover. But she says she is happiest about what it will mean for nursing home residents.

"They're not going to have to wait as long to get the care that they need, and that they deserve," she says. "For families, hopefully they will feel more secure, you know, placing their loved ones in our care."

The bill also sets out a plan to simplify the way nursing homes are paid by Medicaid for lower-income residents. California and Oregon already have direct-care staffing laws.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA