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AARP pressed Congress on Friday to forge ahead with a ‘long overdue’ nursing home staffing mandate, vowing to advocate against any measures to overturn the rule.

The seniors advocacy group acknowledged some concerns that long-term care sector leaders have raised since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalized the rule in April. Speakers, however, repeatedly maintained that the 3.48-hour level of care per resident per day required by the mandate is a necessary change that should have been implemented years earlier.

“CMS’ long overdue rule to require minimum staffing levels in nursing homes will help protect the basic rights of residents to live in dignity,” said Megan O’Reilly, vice president of government affairs, health and family at AARP. “It is shameful that nursing homes receiving taxpayer dollars through Medicare and Medicaid haven’t been required to provide adequate care through specific federal minimum staffing standards until now. Far too many residents and their families have experienced tragic consequences because of poorly staffed facilities.”

The other speaker at the AARP event — Washington, DC, long-term care ombudsman Mark Miller — argued that staffing is the single most important factor to improving care outcomes at nursing facilities.

“It’s important to note,” he said, “that these are minimum staffing standards. They represent the floor, not the ceiling, and many nursing homes will need more than the minimum staff to adequately meet the care needs of the residents they serve. So I find it shameful that Congress is considering overturning nursing home staffing standards.”

Washington, DC, already has one of the highest staffing hours requirements in the nation at 4.1 hours per resident per day, Miller said.. 

Many states have implemented similar hourly mandates or staffing ratios. Some efforts have proven rocky, however, including in New York and Rhode Island. Both states have suspended enforcement penalties because of the difficulty state providers have encountered trying to raise staffing levels. 

Long-term care leaders have raised concerns that, even with its phased-in implementation over several years, the CMS mandate would cause similar issues and put a significant financial strain on providers nationwide.

Congressional efforts to repeal the mandate are underway, with lawmakers in both Houses echoing the sector’s concerns that the mandate will force some providers to close and ultimately limit the access seniors have to long-term care.  

O’Reilly elaborated on AARP’s plans to oppose these attempts — including running a campaign to get their members to contact congressional leaders, taking out ads and having a truck mounted with a pro-mandate billboard circling Capitol Hill. In the last several weeks, AARP members have sent 160,000 emails to their representatives, she said. 

O’Reilly also told attendees that AARP has not heard of any confirmed date for a potential vote on the bills.