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Nursing homes dodge a crisis

Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New

Michael Balboni, executive director of the Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, said the most significant issue in talks with the union related to a spike in owners' cost of covering health insurance. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Daily Point

Deal averts health care workers strike

The nursing home industry narrowly avoided a potentially disastrous work stoppage this week. The Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association and other similar nursing home organizations came to a deal with Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union that will result in a contract for more than 20,000 health care workers who work for predominantly for-profit nursing homes in the metropolitan area.

Michael Balboni, the executive director of the Greater New York association, which represents 80 facilities, along with a broader coalition of 300 homes, told The Point Tuesday that while there were several issues on the table, the most significant had to do with "a huge spike" in owners’ costs of covering worker health insurance, that required the state’s assistance, both financial and otherwise. While details of just what the state offered were unavailable Tuesday, Balboni said without the state’s help "nothing could happen."

Balboni said Local 1199 had notified 220 facilities last week that workers planned a one-day strike for Wednesday. Those notices were withdrawn at 9 p.m. Monday, after the deal was reached.

"The impact [of a strike] would have been really, really dramatic," Balboni said. "This was a one-day strike but we’re struggling with staff anyway and now folks would have been walking off the job."

But for nursing homes, the contract agreement is just the beginning of what will likely be a continued series of challenges. The next one will come at the start of 2022, when the state’s new staffing ratio law is supposed to go into effect.

"If we don’t have enough staff now as we go towards that deadline, mandating a staffing ratio is just going to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," Balboni said.

So, nursing home operators are developing their own Christmas list of requests from the state, from reinstating funds previously cut from Medicaid to finding ways to incentivize new health care workers to join the long-term care industry to developing scholarship and even Peace Corps-style programs.

But first, nursing home owners plan to start with saying "thank you." An advertising campaign is in the works that will thank Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state officials for their efforts in the successful contract negotiations.

Perhaps that’ll help smooth the path when the nursing homes’ requests for more state help are made.

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Building by the numbers

There was good news and bad news in a recent data post about housing creation from the NYC Department of City Planning.

The good news was that new housing production in the NYC Metro area held "relatively steady" in 2020, despite the pandemic. And the region "permitted the largest number of new housing units of any major U.S. metro in the last decade, nearly 548,000 units," the report found.

Unfortunately, once you factor in population, the numbers tell a different story. Housing permits per capita lagged other metros in the country’s South and West during that time period. And Long Island helped bring up the rear for the region.

The post separated the metro area into Inner NJ, NYC, Outer NJ, Southwest CT, Low Hudson, Mid Hudson, and Long Island, and cited LI at the bottom of those groupings for 2020 with just 1,928 new housing units authorized by building permits.

That trend was also fairly steady for the decade. The agency estimated that from 2010 to 2020, "Housing development in Long Island, Connecticut and the Hudson Valley subregions combined accounted for just 17% of new permitted units, despite accounting for 31% of existing housing and 31% of the population (respectively)."

One issue that appears to be keeping the region and LI behind on this front is that housing production has been concentrated in our highest-density areas, which is not true for other regions.

Also a consideration: Many towns across Long Island had significant backlogs in processing and approving building permits throughout 2020 and into 2021.

It all comes at a moment when planners, politicians, and real estate power brokers are navigating both cultural changes coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as questions about the future of working from home, commuting, and office life — all of which could affect where NY builders build, and when.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Whack-a-variant

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Quick Points

Word play

  • Six U.S. Merchant Marine Academy cadets have filed suit against the school, saying that a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate that applies to them "shocks the conscience." Which is a pretty low bar for what constitutes shock.
  • After Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert made anti-Muslim remarks, GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy should condemn her remarks. That Hutchinson, he’s so … principled.
  • A slew of nations around the world announced travel restrictions on countries where the omicron variant has been found, even as cases popped up in countries instituting bans. Sound familiar?
  • Germany’s government is refusing to heed calls for a new lockdown as COVID-19 cases peak and hospitals buckle under the strain, an apparent demonstration of the philosophy: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci says the omicron variant is a "clarion call" that people should put aside their differences and get vaccinated if they’re not, and if they are, get the booster. Surely he knows that only one of those groups is likely to hear that clarion call.
  • U.S. health officials are warning Americans not to jump to conclusions yet about the omicron variant. Which is not the same as the officials jumping into action.
  • Merriam-Webster’s word of the year: vaccine. The Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year: vax. The reaction word of the year: Obviously.

— Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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