(Credit: Getty Images)

New York has expanded eligibility to its $1.2 billion healthcare worker bonus program, but a senior living industry advocate said it still leaves out many assisted living workers.

The state rolled out its Health Care and Mental Hygiene Worker Bonus Program in early August, touting bonuses to frontline healthcare workers who provided hands-on health or care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the Empire State Association of Assisted Living said the original eligibility criteria left out most members of the assisted living workforce. According to the original criteria, eligible workers only included frontline workers in hospitals or nursing homes.

The New York Department of Health recently announced an expansion of the program with additional titles and eligible provider types, including Medicaid assisted living programs. A special submission period will open in December to allow employers to submit newly eligible workers. 

ESAAL Executive Director Lisa Newcomb said that although she is pleased and thankful that the state recognized the hard work of these frontline healthcare workers, the program still leaves out private-pay assisted living and adult care facility workers because they are not Medicaid providers. 

“From the beginning, ESAAL has been advocating to expand the universe of assisted living frontline workers eligible for the healthcare worker bonuses,” Newcomb told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Unfortunately, many of the state’s assisted living communities continue to be ineligible to apply for their deserving workers because residents pay using their own private funds.”

Newcomb previously said that almost 30,000 total direct care workers are employed in assisted living communities across the state. Based on the program guidance, only one-third of those direct care workers are employed by Medicaid providers and therefore are eligible for bonuses.

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

“Like their Medicaid-funded counterparts, they are struggling with increased costs in all areas of operation, and ESAAL will continue to advocate for them as the state develops its 2023-2024 budget,” she said.