#Nursing home groups want Cuomo to scrap staff coronavirus testing policy

#Nursing home groups want Cuomo to scrap staff coronavirus testing policy

ALBANY — In the wake of a New York Post report that nursing homes are getting coronavirus test results for staffers weeks after submitting them — or not at all — several major associations representing the facilities want Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his state Health Department to scrap the twice a week test mandate.

“We are writing to respectfully request that, as regions of the state move into Phases 2 and 3 of the reopening process, the State Department of Health end its current twice-a-week COVID-19 testing mandate for all long-term facility staff and care providers,” wrote the heads of three major associations.

The signers include Neil Heyman, president of the Southern New York Association; Michael Balboni, executive director of Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association; and Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Post Tuesday.

“The safety of our residents and staff is — and always will be — our number one priority. But the current testing policy, while well intentioned, now creates significant economic and practical burdens that inhibit, and often detract from, our ability to provide safe and quality care to our residents.”

Upstate Chautauqua Nursing and Rehab Center tested more than 300 employees four times each during the three weeks DOH’s order has been in place — but has yet to get results back.

“If we can’t get the results back [now] it’s defeating the purpose because I could get the results back that could be a month old,” administrator Mary Margaret Wagner, told The Post.

She said it’s forced staff to get tested on their days off, and takes two full days to perform the swabs, pack-up and ship vials to two out of state labs.

Meanwhile, over 6,100 residents have died of presumed and confirmed coronavirus cases, according to DOH data through June 9.

The governor and DOH identified the elderly among the most susceptible to virus infection, likening the disease’s impact on the community like “fire through dry grass.”

Last month, Cuomo admitted during a MSNBC interview he wouldn’t send his own mother into a nursing home, based on the data recorded.

“To be clear, the phasing out of the testing requirement should apply only to the facilities that have successfully implemented these new protections, including designated COVID-only areas and safety equipment. They should be enforced with a stringent regime of monitoring, and with readiness to change course if infection rates increase,” they added.

“The testing results to-date have not shown any significant population of COVID-positive staff members,” the group maintained.

The Health Department said 395,000 tests results have been submitted to the state as of June 9.

But DOH has also furiously defended a series of COVID-19 related nursing home policy decisions over the last three months, starting with a controversial March 25 order barring operators from denying entry to coronavirus-positive patients.

The issue was highlighted when Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill Health Center was denied patient transfer requests to the near-empty Javits Convention Center or US Naval hospital USNS Comfort  because they were overwhelmed by lack of PPE and the virus’ spread.

Cuomo and health officials have repeatedly doubled down, they were following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.

The administration partially walked back the March 25 edict in early May, editing it to ban hospitals from releasing positive patients back to these residences.

They also backtracked another order in April formerly condoning asymptomatic positive COVID-19 staffers to treat COVID-19 positive elderly residents.

The guidance now says 14 days must pass between a staff’s test and return to work date.

The Health Department, headed by commissioner Howard Zucker, did not immediately return calls for comment.


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