An influential senator is renewing his calls for increased funding for state survey agencies, following the release earlier this month of a federal staffing minimum that would require extensive on-site inspections to determine compliance.

“The staffing standards proposed by the Biden administration are an important step toward ensuring nursing home residents are safe and receive quality care,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), chair of the Special Committee on Aging, in a statement to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Thursday. 

“However, in order to make sure the proposed rule has this intended effect, we must also address the severe staffing shortages my investigation uncovered at state nursing home survey agencies across our Nation,” Casey added. “Congress must ensure CMS and states have the resources and staff to protect resident health and safety.”

Casey earlier this year requested $566 million in funding for CMS and state surveyors, following an investigation into shortages in most states.

It was a year ago that he first asked state survey agencies to report on staffing challenges, noting in a McKnight’s exclusive that many workers had left because they were “drained by physically and emotionally demanding work.” At the time, 4,500 nursing homes were overdue for annual standard surveys, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data.

In May, the Aging committee released “Uninspected and Neglected,” a report that found 32 survey agencies have surveyor job vacancy rates of 20% or higher. The worst were in Kentucky (83% vacancy), Alabama (80%) and Idaho (71%).

Casey placed much of the blame on Congress and its willingness to “flatline” funding for oversight. 

At the same time, he has remained a strong advocate for a federal staffing minimum. The federal government’s Sept. 1 proposal would require additional surveying capabilities to check provider compliance and grant waivers to those facing labor hardships.

Inside Health Policy early Thursday reported that Casey and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (R-OR) called funding an essential component that would make CMS implementation of the new staffing standards possible.

“I think it’s good that they acted,” Casey told the media outlet. “We’ve got to make sure, though, that … we’re asking for higher staffing levels, we’ve got to provide the funding, and I think that’s what’s been missing.”

“That’s where I think we need more funding,” Casey said. “We’ve got to be able to help funding for two reasons: One is to make sure there’s funding at the state level and at the federal level for surveys. And when providers come to us and say, ‘We’ve got a difficult, a difficult bottom line,’ we’ve got to try to be responsive to that as well.”