Suppliers hail new step towards greater oversight of staffing agencies

Long-term care providers celebrated another positive step on Tuesday in a bid to win greater accountability from placement agencies. A Pennsylvania Senate committee moved forward with full Senate hybrid legislation that was overwhelmingly approved by the State House in July.

The Senate is expected to indicate by Wednesday whether it will approve it — three full votes will be needed — and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf (D) for his signature. It’s one of many measures that have sprung up across the country in an attempt to curb what operators see as predatory pricing and other unsavory practices by recruiting agencies taking advantage of the pandemic and other conditions. unfavorable.

“The bill will provide much-needed oversight to long-term care staffing agencies, which are currently completely unregulated in Pennsylvania,” Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said in a statement. a statement. “Today’s affirmative committee vote in the PA State Senate is a big step forward.”

The Pennsylvania bill brings together ideas borrowed from other states, such as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Iowa, which have moved in a similar direction. Colorado is also looking closely at addiction and agency practices, with a regulator expected to release the results of a study early next month.

Pennsylvania’s bill does not include pay rate caps, which were defeated during discussions of the previous proposal, but expects liability, which will be significant whether or not rates go down in the post-pandemic days, Shamberg pointed out. This also only applies to skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, he added.

Among other things, the bill includes provisions to:

  • Ensure caregivers used by agencies have appropriate qualifications
  • Provide cross-checking capabilities so providers can be notified of any complaints made by peers about an agency
  • Remove certain restrictions and non-competition clauses
  • Implement disciplinary measures, including monetary penalties, that hold agencies accountable for wrongdoing

Rationale for action

Stakeholders said on Tuesday that recent news from the Department of Labor about an agency wrongly withholding $4.6 million in overtime payments is all the evidence needed to show that House Bill 2293 deserves support. to be adopted. Shamberg and his colleagues, however, declined to portray it as a punitive measure intended to inflict pain on all agencies.

“Many recruitment agencies have been valuable partners for long-term care providers, including nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living communities,” Shamberg said. “But we must ensure that the partnership is not exploited, now and in the future.”

PHCA communications director Eric Heisler added, “Just as we (in long-term care) are often painted with a broad brushstroke, we’re not going to paint every agency with a broad stroke (as bad ).”

The local Service Employees International Union unit is among the supporters of the bill, whose fate is uncertain in the next steps. If the full Senate passes the bill, which isn’t certain at this point, it’s unclear if it would win the approval of Wolf, whose administration would have additional layers of work.

The need is imminent, however, now and for the future, Heisler pointed out.

“We may not get the workforce back from the agencies, and we’re still in the process of contracting with them,” he noted, “but we will want those protections and enhancements in place. for them”.

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