(WSYR-TV) –The COVID-19 pandemic has sunk its teeth into nursing homes, leaving a deadly and devastating impact on the most vulnerable population.

A report from the New York State Department of Health shows confirmed and presumed deaths from COVID-19 in nursing home & long-term care facilities is just over 15,000.

But many of the issues have only been highlighted by the coronavirus crisis and have to do with the healthcare system itself.

Senator Rachel May, Chair of the Committee on Aging, says she and her colleagues are working to fix these issues. May says its time to take actions to be sure these same mistakes don’t carry into the future.

The Committee on Aging has been working on an entire package of new bills that focuses on accountability, oversight of nursing homes, and transparency. May says they’re also focusing on visitation in nursing homes.

Since last summer, many families haven’t been able to see their loved ones. The committee wants to designate one or two visitors per resident that could come into the nursing home regularly. Those visitors would have to follow the same rules as the staff, meaning they would need to be tested and wear the proper PPE.

This bill is necessary, May says, because the isolation alone has caused dementia, depression, and even death. “Having loved ones in the nursing home is providing care and also allowing eyes and ears to really improve the outcomes on the health of the people in the nursing homes. And we need them back in.”

But the main issue here, according to May, is and always has been a state-wide staffing shortage in nursing homes and the pay of that workforce.

Senator May says she’s been hearing heartbreaking testimony from staff who, throughout the pandemic, have had to work at two different facilities in order to pay their bills.

Nursing homes can’t cover overtime, so in the thick of the pandemic, these workers were doing split shifts, traveling to another facility mid-day and unknowingly spreading the virus.

And since staff has been so busy, May says, they haven’t had as much time to practice proper infection control or pay as much attention to the residents as they have in the past.

“The problem is, we have not addressed that issue. And the issue is, how we pay these essential workers. And the state has been nickel-and-diming long-term healthcare workers for years.”

As the Chair of the Senate Committee on Aging, May says they are calling for a complete re-vamp of the way healthcare workers are paid. She says without this change, staff will continue to leave their jobs and the most vulnerable people will feel a direct impact.

Other bills the committee has created call for a change in the way nursing home deaths are reported, oversight programs in facilities, and require all inspections of nursing homes to be available to the public. May says these will be brought to the floor in the coming weeks.