The new staffing minimums would be enforced by the state Department of Public Health, which would inspect payroll records and work schedules. Homes that don't meet the minimums would be given time to comply. The proposal also would require nursing homes to post their staff-to-resident ratios in a public location.
Federal data show that Connecticut in 2006 cited only 2 percent of nursing homes, under federal rules, for failing to provide sufficient nursing staff.
Prague said she expects the state health department to aggressively enforce the new minimums, saying the agency has been too lenient on staffing in the past.
"I want them doing what we expect them to do — enforcement, not sitting back on their hands," she said.
The staffing proposal was welcome news to one nursing home resident who attended Wednesday's announcement. Grace Belige-Curry said that while she has received good care at Newington Health Care Center, the staff seems "overwhelmed."
"I can really feel now there will be a light at the end of the tunnel," she told the crowd of lawmakers, nursing home workers and advocates.
Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said setting staff-to-resident ratios is the best route to ensuring adequate care. Pouring more money into nursing homes without setting ratios doesn't work to increase staffing levels, she said.
Besides the staffing bill, other proposals would increase financial oversight of nursing homes and provide residents with greater legal protections. One bill would establish an oversight panel to examine and audit the financial records of nursing home companies and identify homes in financial distress — tasks now handled by the Department of Social Services.
Williams said revelations that Haven Healthcare's CEO had diverted millions in corporate assets away from the nursing home chain, to a country music company and other personal ventures, highlights the need for stricter oversight.
"When we increase funding for nursing homes, it should not go to recording studios in Nashville," Williams said. "It should go to employees and quality of care."
Contact Lisa Chedekel at email@example.com.