Long-term care providers on Tuesday celebrated another positive step in a drive to extract more accountability out of staffing agencies. A Pennsylvania senate committee advanced to the full Senate hybrid legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by the state House in July.

The Senate is expected to indicate by Wednesday whether it will approve it — three full votes will be required — and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf (D) for his signature. It is one measure of numerous that have popped up around the country in attempts to rein in what operators see as predatory pricing and other unsavory practices by staffing agencies taking advantage of pandemic and other adverse conditions.

“The bill will provide much-needed oversight for staffing agencies in long-term care, which are currently completely unregulated in Pennsylvania,” said Zach Shamberg, Pennsylvania Health Care Association president and CEO, in a statement. “Today’s affirmative committee vote in the PA state Senate is a big step.”

The Pennsylvania bill brings together ideas borrowed from other states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Iowa, that have moved in a similar direction. Colorado is also closely examining agency dependency and practices, with a regulatory body expected to issue results of a study early next month.

The Pennsylvania bill does not include pay rate caps, which were shot down in earlier proposal talk, but it does expect accountability, which will be important, whether or not rates come down in post-pandemic days, Shamberg pointed out. It also notably pertains only to skilled nursing and assisted living settings, he added.

Among other things, the bill includes provisions to:

  • Ensure caregivers used by agencies have appropriate qualifications
  • Provide cross-checking abilities so providers can learn about any complaints lodged by peers about an agency
  • Remove certain restrictions and non-compete clauses
  • Put in place disciplinary actions, including monetary penalties, that hold agencies accountable for wrongdoing

Justification for action

Stakeholders said Tuesday that the recent Department of Labor news of an agency wrongly withholding $4.6 million in overtime payments is all the proof needed to show that House Bill 2293 deserves passage. Shamberg and colleagues, however, declined to describe it as a punitive measure meant to exact pain on all agencies.

“Many staffing agencies have been valued partners for long-term care providers, including nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living communities,” Shamberg said. “But we must ensure that partnership is not exploited, now and in the future.”

Added PHCA Director of Communications Eric Heisler: “Just like we (in long-term care) are often painted with a broad brush, we’re not going to paint all agencies with a broad stroke (as bad).”

The local unit of the Service Employees International Union is among those supporting the bill, whose fate is uncertain at the next stages. If the full Senate passes the bill, which is not certain at this point, it is not known whether it would get the stamp of approval from Wolf, whose administration would be in for additional layers of work.

The need is imminent, however, now and for the future, Heisler stressed.

“We may not get the workforce back from agencies, and we’re still contracting with them,” he noted, “but we’ll want these protections and enhancements in place for them.”