In recent weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been criticized for failing to adequately protect nursing home residents from the coronavirus. This criticism is well-founded.
On March 25, 2020, the New York State Department of Health sent an advisory document to nursing home administrators. Like many government documents that bear non-threatening labels such as “advisory,” “guidance,” and the like, this document actually contains a list of commands. It said, “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a 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.”
Sadly, it appears that this reckless policy has caused needless suffering and death. More than 3,500 New Yorkers in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers have succumbed to COVID-19. This total represents nearly one-quarter of the total number of coronavirus deaths here in the Empire State. As Michael Goodwin astutely stated in his April 25, 2020 New York Post op-ed, “there is no way to know exactly how many died as a result of the state order, but the number is certainly not zero. The cause and effect relationship is obvious.”
On April 20, the New York Post reported that Gov. Cuomo had been asked about his administration’s nursing home policy at a press briefing and claimed to be unaware of it. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, however, confirmed that COVID-19 patients were to be admitted to nursing homes and added that “necessary precautions will be taken to protect the other residents there.” In response to Commissioner Zucker’s comments, Asm. Ron Kim asserted that “‘either he’s lying or they have absolutely no idea what’s going on on the ground. The [nursing home] staff, the families, everyone is telling me there’s completely a lack of support and they don’t have the necessary PPE [personal protective equipment] to be safe.’”
On April 22, Gov. Cuomo went on the attack, asserting that it was not the state’s responsibility to provide nursing homes with personal protective equipment. The Governor added that if nursing homes were unable to provide their staff with such equipment, they should lose their licenses. Given that much of the danger faced by nursing home staff was caused by the state’s own policy, the Governor’s remarks were both dishonest and callous.
On April 23, the Post reported that “the first coronavirus patients admitted to a Queens nursing home under a controversial state mandate arrived along with some grim accessories — a supply of body bags.” The same nursing home asserted that while its coronavirus patients fared well, its other residents were “‘dropping like flies.’” In a continuing effort to blame nursing homes for the problem, Gov. Cuomo announced that the state would investigate the performance of nursing homes during the pandemic; a day later, he issued a new executive order empowering the Health Commissioner to “suspend or revoke the operating certificate of any skilled nursing facility or adult care facility if it is determined that such facility has not adhered to any regulations or directives issued by the Commissioner of Health.”
The April 24 edition of the Post reported that a Brooklyn nursing home had begged the state for help on April 9, stating that it did not have the ability to keep COVID-19 patients separated from other patients. The state offered no help, and the nursing home has since lost 55 patients to COVID-19.
The fact that COVID-19 takes a disproportionate toll on senior citizens and persons with pre-existing conditions has been well-known for some time. Why, then, was this policy implemented? And why, given the nightmarish death toll at New York’s nursing homes, did it remain in effect until April 28, 2020? If the point of the policy was to relieve pressure on some overcrowded New York City hospitals, why were COVID-19 patients were sent to nursing homes instead of being cared for at large and lightly-used hospital facilities like the U.S.S. Comfort (which is expected to leave New York soon because it is no longer needed here) or the hospital at the Javits Convention Center (which is scheduled to close)? And why did the state give nursing homes so little opportunity to prepare for COVID-19 patients?
At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we don’t know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that the answers provided by Gov. Cuomo have been profoundly unsatisfactory. Our hearts go out to the nursing home residents and staff that have been endangered by the state’s reckless action, and to the families that have lost loved ones because of it. NYCF calls on Gov. Cuomo to stop his arrogant, dishonest posturing, to acknowledge and take responsibility for his administration’s error, and to direct COVID-19 patients that need nursing care to facilities that are appropriately staffed and equipped.