KHI News Service

Committee votes to shelve bill that would beef up nursing home staffing

By Dave Ranney | February 27, 2013

A House committee today voted to shelve a bill meant to increase staffing levels in Kansas nursing homes.

“There’s no time,” said Rep. Daniel Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita. “Everybody felt like we needed more time to think about this, so it’s easiest just to table it and take it up next year.”

Hawkins, a member of the House Committee on Children and Seniors, opened the panel’s hearing Wednesday with a motion to table House Bill 2348. The motion passed on a voice vote that was close to unanimous.

The committee’s chair, Rep. Connie O’Brien, a Republican from Tonganoxie, said that motions to table bills required immediate votes and were not open to discussion.

After the vote O’Brien adjourned the meeting, which lasted less than two minutes.

O’Brien later said she would try to find a way to “revive” the bill.

“I want there to be a discussion,” she said.

Hawkins’ motion surprised others on the committee.

“None of us knew this was coming,” said Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Republican from Mission Hills.

The bill was the subject of a committee hearing Tuesday.

Mitzi McFatrich, executive director for Kansas Advocates for Better Care, a watchdog organization that represents the interests of nursing home residents and their family members, said there was an “indisputable correlation” between the number of nursing home staff and quality of care. Nursing home workers typically include nurses, nurse aides, certified medication aides and paid nutrition assistants.

In Kansas, she said, nursing homes are held to a “minimum standard” of providing each resident with about two hours of hands-on care per day. HB 2348 over three years would raise the standard to almost 4 hours and 26 minutes per day.

The standard, McFatrich said, needs to be raised because 94 of the state’s 342 nursing homes have been cited for either harming residents or putting them in “immediate jeopardy” in the past 12 to 15 months.

“That’s 27 percent,” she said. “That’s a pretty large number.”

But Cindy Luxem, chief executive of the Kansas Health Care Association, a group that includes most of the state’s for-profit nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, said “more care does not equate better care.”

The key to improving care, she said, lies with “…education, better leadership and management and increased passion for the mission – not more numbers.”

Luxem cited a 2012 Legislative Post Audit report that concluded the initiative could increase the state’s Medicaid costs by almost $100 million over three years.

“The fiscal note on this bill alone should put this on the shelf at this time,” Luxem said. “Kansas is not ready to spend the dollars necessary to do everything that’s included in House Bill 2348.”

McFatrich, however, argued that the increase could be financed with revenue generated from an existing tax on nursing home beds that used to generate additional Medicaid dollars.

“If you look at the legislation that led to the ‘provider tax,’ you’ll see that it says all the monies generated shall be used to improve the quantity and quality of skilled nursing care in skilled nursing facilities in Kansas,” she said.

Rep. Don Hill, a Republican from Emporia, said the two group's differences were disconcerting to committee members.

“There was a substantial disconnect between the two primary conferees ,” he said. “I’d like to have more time to talk to both of them – I mean, can’t we take a smaller bite of the apple?”

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