RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Covid-19 crisis revealed serious concerns about staffing shortages, poor infection control and neglect inside Virginia’s nursing facilities.

Now, a House bill introduced by Delegate Betsey Carr – (D) 69th District – would set minimum hourly staffing standards. Virginia is one of only 18 states that doesn’t require nursing homes to have a minimum number of staff hours per resident.

Chesterfield resident Joanna Heiskill believes a lack of staffing and training at a Richmond nursing home cost her mother her life, “She was needing medicines that she was crying out to get.”

Tracey Pompey’s father went into a local nursing facility for rehabilitation. He never came home.

“The staffing that night, there wasn’t much staffing,” said Pompey.

Both women started the group Justice and Change for Victims of Nursing Home facilities and both support HB 646.

“For too long it’s just been totally ignored,” said Heiskill.

If passed, the bill would require 2.8 direct care hours provided by a nurse aide per resident, at least 1.3 hours from a registered nurse per resident and a minimum of 0.75 hours out of total 4.1 required direct hours provided by a registered nurse per resident, per day.

“We appreciate the minimum because there needs to be something in place,” said Pompey.

The Virginia Health Care Association
opposes staffing mandates.

“We know the workforce isn’t there to meet the staffing requirements laid out in the bill,” said Amy Hewett, VHCA’s Vice President of Strategy and Communications.

She says a recent workforce survey shows 96-percent of the nursing facilities in Virginia have vacancies for certified nursing aides.

“There’s just been an exodus of employees,” said Hewett.

Still the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services considers 2.8 hours of certified nursing care to be the safe standard. Currently, there are more than 100 Virginia facilities on a national watch list for causing harm to patients.

Hewett says to address safety, many nursing homes are now limiting new admissions. She said the real issue is money, “What we really need is additional funding into the Medicaid program so that facilities can increase their staff.”

Tracey Pompey, who was a nursing assistant for 30 years, says she’s not buying that – because she claims whenever her facility got word the inspectors were coming, they would suddenly be fully staffed.

Pompey and Heiskill would also like to see legislation addressing staff training. The two say they reached out to all 100 delegates for help with nursing home issues and only six responded.