Nursing home staff and administrators are cheering the Illinois governor’s signing of a bill that will penalize providers who understaff their facilities. State lawmakers passed legislation last month that fines nursing homes that don’t meet the state’s required 2.5 hour daily direct-care level.

The push for fines was prompted in part by a 2018 investigation by Kaiser Health News and the Chicago Tribune into the proliferation of deadly sepsis infections and tying them to the state’s chronic staffing problems. AARP Illinois and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the union representing many of the state’s nursing home workers, were among those pushing for the fines.

In a statement, SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley hailed the bill’s passage as “historic” and said workers should not be “constantly overburdened, exhausted and stressed trying to care for sometimes up to 30 or 40 residents, if not more, at a time.” 

The Illinois Health Care Association said it was generally in favor of the bill in its final form.

“It will allow the state to regulate in a way that it should have been doing since the previous reform bill,” said IHCA Executive Director Matt Harman.

Staffing levels for nurses and aides in Illinois nursing homes were among the lowest in the country, according to the KHN-Tribune investigation, which found that at least a fourth of Chicago-area nursing home residents live in facilities that aren’t consistently providing the state’s minimum of 2.5 hours of direct care daily for residents. 

The new legislation requires state regulators to obtain detailed Medicaid payroll data from each facility, along with each facility’s own patient data, and then calculate each quarter whether the home met the care standard. 

The rule began as a stand-alone bill sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, (D-Chicago) but was later tucked into a budget bill.