Gov. Andrew Cuomo has faced extensive—and justified—criticism for a Health Department mandate that required nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. The mandate has, thankfully, been repealed, but more than 5,300 nursing home residents have died of the coronavirus since March.
More recently, Gov. Cuomo has received additional criticism for a provision in the 2020-21 New York State Budget making nursing homes and hospitals immune from liability in connection with their treatment of COVID-19 patients. While many states have enacted similar protections for nursing homes, The Guardian has reported that New York’s immunity provisions are more extensive than those of most other states because they protect nursing homes’ corporate officers. Furthermore, the Guardian noted that Gov. Cuomo received significant campaign donations from the health care industry in 2018. Multiple lawmakers have complained about the immunity language, and a repeal bill has been introduced.
There are three important observations to be made regarding the nursing home immunity law. First, some of the lawmakers who are complaining about the law have, in essence, admitted that they did not read it and were unaware of its provisions before voting on it. Second, the fact that New York budget bills are routinely passed on a last-minute basis by legislators who have not read them is an ongoing travesty. Third, the primary responsibility for the horrific loss of life at nursing homes during the past two months rests not with the nursing homes themselves, but with a state government that mandated their admission of patients for whom they were not equipped to provide care.