Nursing home employees and other healthcare workers will soon benefit after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced the launch of the Health Care and Mental Hygiene Worker Bonus program. It is bill as a massive statewide initiative to reward efforts during the pandemic.
Enacted in the Fiscal Year 2023 New York State Budget, the program includes $1.3 billion allocated for the payment of recruitment and retention bonuses to certain healthcare and mental hygiene workers, a key initiative in the governor’s aim to increase the state’s health care workforce by 20 percent over the next five years.
Bonuses will be awarded to eligible workers who make less than $125,000 annually and remain in their positions for at least six months. Disbursements will be commensurate with the number of hours worked and duration of service within designated vesting periods for up to a total of $3,000 per employee, the governor’s office said.
“Our bonus program is about more than just thanks. This is an investment in healthcare and with it we will retain, rebuild and grow our healthcare workforce and ensure we deliver the highest quality care for New Yorkers,” Hochul said in announcing details of the program on Wednesday.
Observers say the new program addresses an oft-ignored problem in the nation’s healthcare worker shortage crisis by essentially rewarding loyalty.
“The worker bonus program is really a massive retention effort for those women and men who worked during the pandemic on the front lines,” Stephen B. Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association/New York State Center for Assisted Living, told McKnight’s.
“It’s a reward to those New York frontline workers for sticking with it,” added LeadingAge New York President and CEO Jim Clyne to a McKnight’s inquiry.
“Throughout the pandemic, including the early days when many were hunkered down at home, our healthcare workers and first responders have shown up day after day to keep New Yorkers healthy and save lives,” Hochul said. “Healthcare workers are the foundation of our medical system, and we need to acknowledge the sacrifices they have made to bring us through these challenging times.”
Employers eligible for the bonus program funding include providers participating in Medicaid with at least one employee, and other providers, facilities, pharmacies and school-based health centers licensed under the state Public Health Law, Mental Hygiene Law and Education Law. Also, certain programs funded by the Office of Mental Health, Office for the Aging, Office of Addiction Services and Supports, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, and the Office of Children and Family Services.
NY’s staffing woes
Meanwhile, New York nursing homes and other healthcare facilities continue to reel from an ongoing exodus of workers.
Complicating matters is a controversial nursing home minimum staffing law that went into effect in March. The law requires facilities to provide a daily average of 3.5 hours of care per resident by a nurse or nursing assistant. At least 2.2 hours of care must be provided by a certified nursing assistant, and at least 1.1 hours of care must be given by a licensed nurse.
According to Hanse, NYSHFA commissioned an independent study by consulting firm Clifton Larson & Allen, which found nearly two-thirds of New York’s 611 nursing homes currently do not meet the safe staffing law’s 3.5-hour minimum. In order to meet it, nursing homes would have to spend $324 million to hire more than 5,600 additional care workers.
A group of about 80 nursing homes recently filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that law, which also requires nursing homes to spend at least 70% of revenue on direct resident care, and at least 40% of revenue on resident-facing staffing.
Overall, there are reportedly 9,300 job openings for healthcare workers in New York. The state is facing a “severe shortage” of workers in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospitals and for in-home care, said Hochul.Eligible employers can submit employees who qualify for payments by creating an account on the online Healthcare Worker Bonus (HWB) portal at www.nysworkerbonus.com. Additional information can be found on the HWB Program Portal or by calling the Health Care Worker Bonus Call Center at: (866) 682-0077.