New York’s Governor Cuomo Criticized for Handling of Nursing Homes During Pandemic

This week, New York State reported almost 5,000 nursing home residents in the state have died from COVID-19 since March 1. New figures released reported that more than 2,300 nursing home residents have died and another 2,500 are presumed to have died from the virus. The data regarding COVID-19 fatalities from New York State is available here. The amount of deaths is reportedly five times the number deaths related to the virus in all of Washington State.

As expected, Governor Cuomo, who has been praised for his leadership during this crisis, is now facing criticism over his administration’s role regarding nursing home oversight during the pandemic.

This week, with the release of the high number of nursing home deaths, even former New York Governor George Pataki has been critical of Gov. Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, claiming that the administration may have caused “thousands” of unnecessary deaths. Although New York required in March that nursing homes take in COVID-19 positive patients, isolate the patients, and provide protective gear and temperature checks for staff, Gov. Pataki argued that nursing homes did not have enough personal protective equipment for staff and/or patients.

In an interview, Gov. Pataki said Gov. Cuomo should have required that COVID-19 positive patients be sent to temporary field hospitals such as the Javits Center or the USNS Comfort hospital ship in New York City. Instead, hundreds of beds at the Javits Center went unused and the ship has since left New York City. More information regarding Gov. Pataki’s criticism of Gov. Cuomo is available here.

Gov. Cuomo’s office responded to Gov. Pataki’s criticism, stating, “The DOH directive is consistent with CDC guidance … the policy is this: you can’t discriminate but if you don’t have proper facilities or staff with proper protection, they must be transferred to someplace that does.”

As discussed in a previous blog, on March 25, 2020, the New York Department of Health Advisory to Nursing Homes unequivocally prohibited nursing homes in New York from denying admission or re-admission to a resident based upon a confirmed or suspected positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Nowhere in the Advisory does it state, as claimed by the Cuomo Administration, that if the facility does not have proper facilities or staff that the patient should be transferred to someplace that does.

To the contrary, it states, “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. [Nursing Homes’ are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined to be medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

The full text of the Advisory is available here.

Gov. Pataki and others have called for an investigation into the Cuomo Administration’s alleged failed nursing home policies in New York State. It remains to be seen if the Cuomo Administration will enact additional DOH Advisories and/or statutes to address this issue.

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