Nursing homes in New York could be getting stronger and long-sought expansion of oversight — but there's a concern funding won't be enough. 

The state's $229 billion budget will add $2.5 million for a program overseeing and inspecting nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

For lawmakers, the hope is the money will be a first step in eventually accelerating funding for the program. 

"The goal is to increase that number for the next two or three years, giving the administration time to scale up those numbers," said state Assemblyman Ron Kim. 

At issue is the ombudsman program for long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Advocates and state lawmakers this year wanted $15 million to expand hiring in order to provide greater oversight and protections for residents. 

The money was sought three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when thousands of nursing home residents perished in the initial months of the public health crisis. More broadly, state officials have placed a new focus on aging in the state, launching a master plan assessment of the need for services to aid a rapidly graying population. 

But nursing homes are a specific area for policymakers to tackle and the expansion of the ombudsman program is being treated as a multi-year effort. 

"It’s hard to build capacity when you didn’t have capacity for so many years," Kim said. "It’s hard to hire people to fill those roles. So we want to work with the administration and getting to the right place where we have a robust program that advocates for nursing home residents."

The ombudsmand program at the moment is a largely volunteer-driven effort. AARP New York's Dave McNally said that should change — professionalizing the program to ensure weekly visits. 

"This is not a job that should be left to all these hard working volunteers," McNally said. "This is a job that requires the respect of the state to adequately fund it to make sure these facilities are getting at least one visit a week."

AARP has pointed to state statistics showing only a fraction of nursing homes statewide have received a recent visit from an ombudsman. 

"It’s a crisis. We lost 15,000 people in nursing homes during COVID and it also exposed a lot of the issues in nursing homes that need to be addressed," McNally said. 

Still, funding for the program will essentially double in the budget agreement — money that comes as New York officials are also conducting a study of how to address aging in the state. 

"It is a good first step," McNally said. "We know what the problem is and we know what the solution is."