Oversight and transparency could be strengthened for nursing homes and long-term care facilities as New York lawmaker seek to bolster safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The bill heading to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk is meant to strengthen safety at the state's nursing homes and long-term care facilities through the ombudsman program. It's a measure Dave McNally of the AARP says will help pinpoint problems affecting vulernable residents. 

"This will give us a lot more information to both fix problems before they occur and frankly shine a lot on them for policymakers," he said. 

If given final approval by the governor, New York's nursing home ombudsman program will be required to publicize the kinds and patterns of complaints received by its regional offices. The number of visits by independent ombudsman would also be reported. 

"This will tell us things like what kind of problems are actually systematic and are they re-occuring in facility," McNally said. 

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have come under scrutiny during the pandemic. More than 15,000 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic and there have been calls from lawmakers and family members to investigate state policies that may have contributed to those deaths.

Hochul signaled recently she wants to review pandemic policies during the early months of the crisis. 

This pending measure embraces the ombudsman program, which provides eyes and ears for state officials at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.  

"They are the only program authorized on a regular basis to go into nursing homes and observe conditions, monitor care, help resolve problems," McNally said. "But they are woefully understaffed and they are woefully underfunded."

Maria Alvarez, the executive director the Statewide Senior Action Council, called the measure an important step. But recruitment for the program is needed. 

"We have to find a better way of finding more people who will visit and make visits and make reports on the quality of care in the facilities," she said. 

Support for nursing homes is also being bolstered as the state's population is expected to get older on average. By 2035, a quarter of New York's population is expected be 65 and older. 

"These services are going to be quite in demand and so we need to have a better account of how these services are being provided," Alvarez said.