Nurses are often on the frontline of dealing with issues of elder law, with their often compassionate personal sacrifices, mixed with their almost always professional approach to the care and treatment of their patients in any number of nursing homes across the state.  They deal with some of the most intimate, personal and human experiences up front and personal.  The vast majority of nurses across the state that work in nursing homes and with the elderly (as well as in other fields and venues) are quiet professionals who are content to simply do their job and move one in life.  

New York, however, is one of only a handful of states that has lax licensing regulations and enforcement.  New York’s nursing licensure schema requires nurses to self report any criminal convictions and may take years before it actually disciplines a nurse for egregious conduct.  Currently the New York state Department of Education, Office of Professions sets the rules and regulations for nurses and issues nursing licenses in the state.  This blog explored a well reported ProPublica investigation into nursing home abuse almost three months ago.  Following the extensive investigative journalism piece, the federal government opened its own investigation on several different levels.  

Analogously, following another ProPublica investigation into nursing homes and nursing home workers in New York state in particular, the New York legislature is opening its own investigation into statewide issues with the licensing nurses and considering the legal mechanisms by which the state can ensure that all nurses have the appropriate background checks performed before they are licensed.  Governor Andrew Cuomo stated he would consider a change in the law shifting the responsibility to license nurses to the state Board of Health, which currently regulates doctors and physicians assistants (although the Department of Education, Office of Professions issues the license).

Any change in legislation necessarily involves various constituencies and stakeholders.  In this case there are the patients, patients families and other patient advocates, the nurses and their various unions and advocates as well as doctors and other related medical professions and some are calling for reform via tighter enforcement until these issues are straightened out and a new system put in place.  Not surprisingly, ProPublica also chronicled how state nursing home operators manage their properties and how some allegedly have poor models for patient care that even allows some patients to turn gangrenous and rot away.  

As such, ProPublica’s investigation taken as a whole show the worst aspects of nursing home care in New York.  Of course most nursing homes and nurses in New York do not present problems or concerns to patients, families or the state.  The majority of nursing homes are clean and safe, staffed by competent and well vetted professionals.  Until the legislature finally straightens out the larger issues of licensing and discipline of nurses and properly funds the agency responsible for overseeing New York’s nursing home (Office of Public Health and Health Planning Council, Department of Health) it is up to the consumer to utilize experienced elder law attorney to help protect them from the various legal risks and to help provide real world advice on how to best handle problematic individuals and institutions.  

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