New York state has had 428,303 cases of Covid-19, with 32,445 deaths – the highest in the nation. Almost 6,500 of the deaths were at nursing homes or adult care facilities. Even that number may be low, because patients who contracted the disease in a nursing home, then were sent to hospitals and died, are counted as hospital deaths.
Some have blamed the nursing home deaths on a policy the state enacted on March 25, requiring nursing homes to accept recovering coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals. Nursing homes were “prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident… to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo faced a rising level of backlash as people learned about the policy and as coronavirus deaths in long-term care facilities increased dramatically. Finally, on May 10, Cuomo reversed this directive. His new announcement said that hospitals could no longer release coronavirus patients to nursing homes unless patients first test negative for the virus, indicating they had recovered.
Despite the reversal, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., criticized the policy and called for an investigation. “As the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, I am charged with investigating ‘preparedness for and response to the coronavirus crisis.’ By all accounts, New York’s handling of the crisis in its nursing homes has been a colossal failure.”
Scalise was joined by House Republicans on that subcommittee in demanding the state attorney general investigate the governor’s handling of coronavirus in nursing homes. They called for similar investigations in California, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, other states with high numbers of deaths in adult care facilities.
ProPublica is a New York based, investigative nonprofit newsroom, described by media bias rating groups as accurate but left leaning. Reporting on the nursing home deaths in detail, they expressed criticism of the state’s policy – as well as other problems within facilities and with state and local regulatory agencies. They used Cuomo’s own words against him, as he called the threat to long-term care facilities “fire through dry grass.”
Given that statement, why add fuel to the fire by sending recovering patients to nursing homes? The news organization said that the policy was probably established to keep hospital beds open “at a moment when it appeared hospitals would be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients needing intensive care.”
“The Cuomo administration would not say who conceived of the order or answer the question of whether it believed the order had led to additional deaths,” ProPublica reported, adding, “The administration said the Health Department was conducting ‘a thorough review’ of COVID-19’s impact on nursing homes.”
Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for the NY Health Department, said, “Science will determine whether the spread in nursing homes came as a result of returning residents or from asymptomatic staff who were already there.”
Well, the state’s internal review is in – and it’s being attacked as well. It seems like Bruno predicted the conclusions of the report, which found that “nursing home admissions from hospitals were not a driver of nursing home infections or fatalities” and “fatalities in nursing homes were related to infected nursing home staff.” The report also says that visiting family and friends may have inadvertently spread the virus.
But many dispute the report’s conclusions. “Scientists, health care professionals and elected officials assailed the report released last week for flawed methodology and selective stats that sidestepped the actual impact of the March 25 order,” an Associated Press (AP) story said. The AP had asked experts to review the report, and they found that “it has fatal flaws, including never actually addressing the effect of the order” mandating nursing homes admit recovering coronavirus patients.
University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, epidemiologist Catherine Troisi said the report would never have been published in an academic journal. And Dr. Michael Wasserman, president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, said, “They really need to own the fact that they made a mistake, that it was never right to send COVID patients into nursing homes and that people died because of it.”
The AP quotes Cuomo defending himself and the internal review at a news conference, saying that “ugly politics” were behind “this political conspiracy that the deaths in nursing homes were preventable. And now the report has the facts, and the facts tell the opposite story.”
Despite the results of the review, questions remain about the nursing home deaths. In addition to the Republicans on the House Subcommittee calling for investigation, they’re also asking Cuomo to turn over all records about the March 25 mandate.
In addition, the NY legislature is holding joint hearings into the coronavirus’ devastating effects on the state, with “two sessions dedicated to the ‘rate of infection and mortality’ in residential health care facilities for the elderly and infirm.”
Cuomo, meanwhile, has created and is selling a “New York Tough Poster,” commemorating the state’s journey with the virus. He says, “We went up the mountain, we curved the mountain, we came down the other side.” The poster sells for $14.50, plus shipping and handling. Cuomo also plans to write a book “about his experience handling the pandemic.”
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