“#Lawmakers urge Cuomo to overhaul nursing home oversight amid coronavirus mess”
June 25, 2020 | 7:15pm | Updated June 25, 2020 | 7:50pm
The 22 senators recommended a nine-point plan to improve transparency and accountability – including reporting the deaths of nursing home residents while in the care of hospitals, according to a letter obtained by The Post.
About 6,200 nursing home deaths have been attributed to suspected or confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.
Complaints abounded during the peak of the pandemic that nursing homes and the state Health Department were under-reporting deaths.
“Provide daily public updates on the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in residents and staff with the percentage of infection in each category, deaths in the facility, and death of residents transferred to hospitals by facility, and by county,” said the letter drafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and co-signed by 21 other senators.
“I don’t know if we’ve gotten a full and correct accounting of how many people died of COVID-19 in nursing homes and how many nursing residents transferred to hospitals died of COVID,” Krueger told the Post when asked about the letter.
Cuomo has dismissed Republican criticism of his nursing home policies as partisan attacks, or claimed he was following the policy of President Trump’s Centers for Disease Control.
But in this case, an array of fellow Democrats from all parts of the state are the ones raising serious concerns about state’s oversight of nursing homes — including Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) and Aging Committee Chairwoman Rachel May (D-Syracuse).
In the letter, the lawmakers said the governor should require facilities to report the COVID-19 infection and deaths at nursing homes to family members and legal guardians, as well as to the Long Term Care Ombudsmen’s Program – the advocates for nursing home residents.
The senators also said bluntly: “The DOH (Dept. of Health) should reevaluate its entire nursing home inspection system.”
The senators, who said they would hold public hearings on the handling of nursing homes during the COVID-pandemic, also called on Cuomo to:
- Repeal the Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act that grants nursing homes immunity from medical malpractice suits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuomo pushed to have the immunity clause included in the state budget approved by lawmakers.
- Require each nursing home to employ a qualified, full-time infection preventionist throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
- Establish a SWAT team to provide immediate assistance to help facilities support and protect residents and staff when the infection rate hits a problematic level set by the Health Department — or when there there are a “significant” increase in complaints.
- Deploy qualified people back into facilities to do the important work of ombudsman/volunteers while they are unable to physically enter facilities, and to allow DOH inspections teams back into facilities… “beyond those that constitute immediate jeopardy.”
- Prohibit nursing homes from accepting new residents if staffing levels fail to meet minimum requirements.
- Require DOH to establish a protocol to enable residents to leave the nursing home during a pandemic and to return after without charging bed fees during the emergency.
The senators did say they supported the Cuomo administration’s recent policy increasing testing of nursing home staff.
They said that home-care workers should also be tested for COVID-19.
Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker came under fire for a controversial March 25 directive that required nursing to admit or readmit recovering COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals. Following the criticism, the governor partially repealed the policy in May — saying hospitals could not discharge patients to hospitals unless they tested negative before for the virus before their release.
The senators said they intend to grill state officials and nursing home providers over their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, in a response letter sent to Krueger Thursday on the governor’s behalf said, “Protecting our most vulnerable New Yorkers is our top priority and I both appreciate your suggestions and share your concerns on how to keep them safe in the midst of this worldwide pandemic where nursing homes have been the epicenter in virtually every corner of this nation.
“I am glad to report that many of your recommendations have either already been
implemented, or are part of the state’s plans as we continue to focus our efforts on the health and well-being of all New Yorkers and those in long term care facilities.”
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