A nurse fanning a bundle of hundred dollar bills as if she is proud of the money. She is wearing white scrubs.
(Credit: MichaelRLong / Getty Images)

New York’s healthcare worker bonus program is “deeply flawed, unfair and discriminatory” according to one senior living industry advocate.

New York rolled out a $1.2 billion Health Care and Mental Hygiene Worker Bonus Program in early August, touting bonuses to frontline healthcare workers who provide hands-on health or care services in recognition of their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Empire State Association of Assisted Living Executive Director Lisa Newcomb told McKnght’s Senior Living, however, that eligibility criteria leave out most members of the assisted living workforce.

The program, she said, is an acknowledgement by the state legislature of the “tireless, hard work that frontline healthcare workers have provided to our most vulnerable citizens, the sick and elders among us throughout the pandemic.”

“While the effort is laudable, unfortunately, the [New York] Department of Health is picking and choosing amongst those frontline workers, with some deemed eligible for the bonus and others not,” however, Newcomb said. “Every frontline worker should get this bonus. Imagine having to explain to our dining room, activities, food service and housekeeping staff that the state has not deemed them worthy of the bonuses that they are giving to other frontline workers, including their counterparts working in nursing homes and hospitals.

“That is patently unfair.”

Newcomb said that during a discussion on the bonus program she was alerted by the health department to a note about “all other healthcare support workers.” According to the criteria, eligible workers only include frontline workers in hospitals or nursing homes, she said.

Private-pay assisted living and adult care facility workers are completely left out of the bonus program because they are not Medicaid providers. Those providers that do participate in the state’s assisted living Medicaid program, however, also are mostly shut out of the bonus program because worker titles don’t align with the list of eligible titles, which Newcomb said came from the mental health and developmental disability sectors. 

“These providers, and their residents, cannot sustain the increased cost of doing business in a state that continues to ignore them while providing relief to other healthcare settings,” she said

Newcomb said that almost 30,000 total direct care workers are employed in assisted living communities across the state. She said that, based on the healthcare worker bonus program guidance, only one-third of those direct care workers are clearly eligible for bonuses, since they work for Medicaid providers. Of those, however, only perhaps 10% have titles on the eligibility list, Newcomb said. The process, she said, sends a “very negative message.”

“With the exception of case managers or nurses, our frontline staff — our dining staff, our activities people — they don’t fit any of these titles,” Newcomb said. “We have asked about the ‘other direct care staff’ title, but they are not answering us.”

Newcomb said that when the bonus program was first passed as part of the state budget, assisted living frontline healthcare staff members assumed that they were included in the distribution, only to find out later that they were being left behind.

“All of our staff felt they were getting the bonus. They are certainly deserving of it,” she said, adding that providers are hesitant to apply for any part of the program without further guidance from the state. “State government has the discretion to change this policy to include our frontline workers and should do so.”