New York nursing home advocates are breathing a sigh of relief, with the state deciding to first study provider staffing ratios over the next eight months instead of making an immediate mandate to hire more employees.

Empire State lawmakers late last week directed the Health Department to study such ratios in both nursing homes and hospitals, and how they impact care. Legislators had previously considered a “safe staffing” bill that providers estimated would cost the New York healthcare industry $1 billion extra annually, the Buffalo News reported Friday.

Demanding specific staffing counts makes little sense at a time when nursing homes are struggling to attract talent while also facing a $55 per-patient, per-day Medicaid shortfall, said Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association

“Going straight to a mandated number is not the appropriate course of action, especially in healthcare,” he told McKnight’s on Friday. “So, I think this study is important, and NYSHFA will certainly be at the table taking part.”

Currently, New York SNFs are required only to have “sufficient” staffing levels, with no specified ratios. Bills proposed previously would have required certified nursing assistants to spend at least 2.8 hours a day with each resident, while the numbers would have been 1.3 hours for licensed practical nurses and 0.75 hours for registered nurses.

LeadingAge New York also opposes any mandates and estimates that those proposals would cost providers $3 billion, higher than the number quoted in local reports. Ami Schnauber, VP of advocacy and public policy, said that would amount to the “largest ever unfunded healthcare mandate” in the state. She’s “pleased” to see that the study will look at acuity and the needs of different units, going “beyond just CNA, LPN and RN hours.” LeadingAge “looks forward to participating in this workgroup,” she added.

The study will begin May 1 and must wrap up by the end of the year.