Now is not the time to relax Georgia’s nursing law

A report from the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week outlined the changes: “The bill would allow homes to meet minimum monthly nursing staff requirements, rather than current weekly nursing hour needs. The total number of hours of care would not change, but they could be delivered in a week or two a month, for example, instead of having one caregiver every week.”

At first glance, the new math here only seems to result in a permissible shift in hours – and not in a change in content. However, it seems a reasonable requirement to have nurses available for part of each calendar week.

Another change in HB1531 would drop the current requirement for at least two employees to be present at all times. The proposed change would only allow one staff member in memory care units if there are fewer than 12 residents during the day and fewer than 15 residents at night. In non-memorial care units, one staff member would be allowed during the day if there are fewer than 15 residents during the day or fewer than 20 residents at night.

Anyone who has spent time in a care setting, particularly one dedicated to memory care, knows that crisis situations can develop quickly and unpredictably. Two employees can be put to the test – and only one employee in the company can be so overwhelmed that the supply suffers.

This relaxation of key provisions of current law appears to be in direct contradiction to the sentiments that led to the passage of the landmark 2020 Nursing Care Act. It came after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Unprotected” reporting project exposed too many cases of welfare that fell far short of the norms a decent society should demand.

This newspaper’s reporting showed that one in five assisted living or large nursing homes in Georgia had a history of violations that indicated serious deficiencies. As we noted at the time, our reporting identified “600 allegations of neglect and 90 allegations of abuse… . The figures include 20 deaths and more than 100 injuries in cases where facilities appear not to have provided adequate care.”

Worse, the AJC reported that “given the incompleteness or other deficiencies of records in Georgia, the number of victims is very likely even higher.”

With this in mind, the Georgia legislature passed HB 987, which significantly improved the standards of care at these facilities. One of the key drivers of this bill was Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, whose family runs retirement homes.

LaHood is also sponsoring the new Revision Act. He said last week the changes were needed to give senior care operators flexibility and keep costs down at a time when hiring staff is challenging due to labor shortages.

We have no doubt that finding and retaining a workforce is difficult, especially given what a global pandemic and the associated economic upheaval has wrought on the care industry.

This should not put Georgia’s vulnerable citizens in care facilities at a potentially greater risk. The state would better serve their interests and those of a humane society that values ​​life by exploring other solutions.

For example, lawmakers could quickly focus on ways to better retain caregivers during this period known as the “Great Retirement,” when many workers in many industries are moving on or quitting.

The state can certainly afford to consider its options at this point, given tight budget hikes for many state employees and a proposal to lower the state’s income tax rate and give taxpayers refunds.

Legislators should consider whether some of this current surplus could be used to keep needed nurses in care facilities on the job.

As the human hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged Georgia nursing facilities has shown, nurses are among the most important of all workers.

You deserve our support.

The editorial office.